The Registry of County Court Judgments was set up by parliament in 1852 when William Gladstone was Chancellor. The original Act provided for the registration of all county court judgments in England & Wales of £10 or more, the original Registry being mainly important as a source of trade rather than consumer data. Otherwise, the value of exempt judgments would have been set far lower than £10 - in 1886 a Singer sewing machine cost four guineas, indicating that most consumer transactions in 1852 were less than £10.
The aim of the Registry was "to enable parties to ascertain the credit of tradesmen and others whom they might be inclined to trust, by searching to see if there were any judgments registered". The registration could be cancelled if the debtor provided proof that the judgment was satisfied, but as few did this, the numbers of judgments held steadily increased.
Public subsidy was needed by the early 1870s as the cost of running the Registry exceeded £2,500 p.a., against an annual income of less than £100 obtained from the 6d charged for each search.
In 1874, 25,156 register entries were made. By 1965 the number had reached 450,000 (often 2-3,000 per day) creating an acute storage problem.
In 1930, following representations from trade protection societies, one copy of the daily returns was sent to the Registry and a second copy was sent to the Mercantile Press Association for inclusion in a commercial publication "Stubbs Gazette". Apart from this, the system remained the same for over 100 years until, in the 1980s, when the cost of the register to the government once more became an issue.
In 1985, Lord Hailsham, the Lord Chancellor at that time, was considering either closing the Registry or increasing the lower limit of £50.
This was of great concern to the credit industry - representatives covering lenders, consumers and the credit reference agencies being united in the belief that the existence of a Register was of paramount importance in responsible credit granting. By then the purpose of the Register had widened - the spread of consumer credit creating a demand for information including consumer judgments.
Malcolm Hurlston, brought together a wide-ranging coalition, including the National Consumer Council, leading trade associations and credit reference agencies, supported by Lords Graham and Chelmer.
As a result of the representations they made, Lord Hailsham agreed that the operation of the register could be handed to a non-profit company.
Registry Trust took the financial burden of operating the register from the government. More than that, it reimburses the Ministry of Justice for the cost of providing the information.
Under the Register of County Court Judgment Regulations 1985 (amended 1990 and 1996) the Registry received judgments, satisfactions and cancellations daily from all the county courts in England & Wales.
In 1993 details of consumer Administration Orders, made in the county courts, were added to the Register and in 1997, details of Child Support Agency Liability Orders, obtained in magistrates courts, were also added.
On 6th April 2006, the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines superseded the Register of County Court Judgments and Registry Trust (RTL) was contracted to the Lord Chancellor to maintain this new Register which contains three sections:
- County Court Judgments, Administration Orders and Child Support Agency Liability Orders.
- High Court Judgments.
- Magistrates Courts Fines defaults.
On 1st April 2009 the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines Regulations were further amended to include defaulted tribunal awards relating to individuals, companies or businesses subject to a Tribunal decision as a result of which a sum of money is payable.
The Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines is a statutory public Register, access to which is open to all. This allows anyone to check the information on any business or individual, upon provision of the requisite search details and payment of the fee.
Customers of the Registry vary, but include the following categories:
- Individuals who want information, often about themselves, when they have been refused credit and want to know why.
- Individuals who wish to find out their case number, without which courts cannot help them with further details.
- Small businesses who want to check potential clients or who want to check on themselves after they have been refused credit.
- Periodic searches where customers can buy consumer or commercial information listed by post code.
- The credit reference agencies who buy all the information which is then passed to lenders, assisting them in making informed decisions when asked to provide credit facilities.
- Employers who wish to check on present and potential employees.
- The Insolvency Service prior to processing a petition for bankruptcy.
The Register records all money judgments, other than defended cases, as soon as the judgment is given. Defended cases, where the defendant appears in person, are not registered unless an instalment order is made, or the claimant takes enforcement action.
A Fine default is registered following the offender's failure to respond to a Further Steps Notice issued by the relevant court. The registration includes all outstanding monies owed on the fine(s) including costs and compensation.
In 1990, Registry Trust acquired from Dun & Bradstreet its business of collecting decree information from small claims and summary causes courts. Details of recalls (cancellations) are also collected. In 2010 this was extended with the collection of ordinary causes. Following a change to Scottish law on 28th November 2016, ‘Simple Procedure’ decrees are also collected.
Isle of Man
In 1998 agreement was reached with the Isle of Man authorities to provide judgment data, including satisfactions and cancellations. In 2014 further agreement was reached with the Isle of Man authorities for Registry Trust to become Registrar for a new register of Isle of Man defaulted fines.
In 1993, details of enforced judgments were obtained from the Enforcement of Judgments Office in Northern Ireland. In May 1996 this arrangement was superseded by an agreement reached with the Northern Ireland Court Service to provide details of all undefended, unenforced default and small claims county court judgments. Details of cancellations are also provided. In 2008 the Northern Ireland Court Service extended the supply of data to include high court judgments.
In 1994, an arrangement was made with the Jersey Courts for the supply of Petty Debt and Royal Court judgments and setting asides (cancellations).
Republic of Ireland
Since 1998, details of registered judgments from the Republic of Ireland have been collected through a joint agreement with the Irish Trade Protection Association and Dun & Bradstreet (Ireland).
In order to provide parity across jurisdictions, Registry Trust implements the same criteria for satisfying judgments or decrees as is imposed by the statutory register in England & Wales. This enables consumers elsewhere to update their records and receive credit as appropriate.
In addition to improving and maintaining registers, Registry Trust has made important contributions to public life in Britain. It provided the first pro-director of the Money Advice Trust in early 90s and then gave crucial support to establishing consumer credit counselling in the UK.
StepChange Debt Charity as it is now known began life as The Foundation for Credit Counselling before becoming the Consumer Credit Counselling Service. Initially with an office within the Registry Trust premises in London it is now the leading free debt advice charity in the UK.
In the mid-90s Registry Trust helped the establishment of CIFAS, the fraud avoidance system which provides comprehensive databases of confirmed fraud data.
The partnership between Registry Trust and the Ministry of Justice (in its current and previous Departmental forms) has proved an object lesson in the provision of social objectives through private means. At no cost to the government and while maintaining its non-profit making status, the Registry contains within its structure a built-in drive for efficiency, at the same time serving the interests of the stakeholders in its sector: lenders, credit reference agencies and information users and the public.