Judges ‘not up to speed on home laws’

The Master of the High Court has warned that judges lack knowledge about new laws concerning repossession cases as the mortgage market begins to be “sliced and diced”.

Judges ‘not up to speed on home laws’

Edmund Honohan has also called on the Government to set up a mortgage registration authority to regulate the sale of bank loan books which would help strengthen the rights of borrowers.

The comments by Mr Honohan come amid fears for the rights of thousands of borrowers whose mortgage loans from Irish Nationwide are set to be sold off in the next two weeks.

Mr Honohan, who describes himself as the High Court case manager, sees thousands of mortgage cases between borrowers and lenders come before him every year.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, the senior barrister outlined his concern that judges were not up to speed on updates to legislation relating to repossessions and the rights of borrowers.

“I’ve noticed recently the lay litigants before me are clearly not aware of the new legislative changes. The lawyers aren’t aware and, unfortunately, the case is that judges up and down the country haven’t had these matters brought to their attention and it may well be that this new provision [in the law] may be very delayed coming into effect.”

Mr Honohan said the rights of borrowers were enhanced in the Land and Conveyancing Reform Bill 2013, which forces banks to examine alternatives to repossession. However, many judges, let alone struggling mortgage owners, are unaware of the changes.

“There certainly should be a flow of information coming from the Department of Justice to the judges to enable them to be completely up to date.

“They should know in advance by means of what we call bench books comprising information and other materials available to the judiciary.

“I’m talking about the judges not being up to speed with what way the Government is thinking in relation to repossessions.

“Many cases go undef-ended. Solicitors don’t feel there’s any advantage in appearing on behalf of clients because they think there’s no point to be made and there is and judges need to be aware of the fact that they need to bring to the attention of the defendants that there are rights that they could be availing of,” he said.

The Department of Justice said training for judges was a matter for the judiciary, who are independent. However, it also said plans were being considered for training for barristers or solicitors applying to be judges.

Mr Honohan said the Government needs to establish a mortgage registration authority, in light of the sale of Irish Nationwide’s 13,000 residential mortgages.

Mortgageholders fear their loans may be bought by an unregulated, so-called foreign “vulture fund”.

Such a scenario could allow a foreign buyer hike up mortgage interest rates for borrowers, as they may not be covered by the code of conduct that applies to lenders here.

A mortgage registration authority could act as a clearing house and could also ensure the transfer of a mortgage from one lender to another would allow a borrower an option to buy the loan at same price, Mr Honohon explained.

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