More powers for bailiffs 'won't help poor recovery rate'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 May, 2009, 12:00am

Bailiffs executing court orders to seize property and chattels from delinquent debtors usually have little success - but the judiciary does not think increasing their powers would be much help.

The success rate for such orders, known as writs of fieri facias, was 12 per cent last year. That was up a little on 9 per cent in 2007 but barely changed from 13 per cent the previous year.

The success of an order's execution depended on many factors beyond the control and responsibility of the Bailiff's Office - including whether the debtor had the means to pay - the government said in a written reply to legislator Chan Kin-por.

The office's 43 bailiffs made 9,370 attempts to execute writs of fieri facias and similar magistrates' warrants last year, succeeding in 1,118.

The success rate for writs of possession - another type of order for recovery of money or property - was a little higher at 36 per cent of 5,528 attempts, little changed from the 40 per cent of the previous two years.

But the bailiffs had a near-perfect record in executing writs of possession - getting landlords' properties back from delinquent tenants - with 93 per cent success in 7,378 attempts, the same rate as 2007 and a percentage point up from 2006.

Fieri facias writs and distress warrants are deemed unsuccessful if the debtor is penniless, has left on the premises goods of insufficient value to cover the execution expenses, or cannot be found.

This is bad news for the creditor on whose application the order is enforced, who loses a HK$5,000 deposit for the bailiff's expenses, as well as not recovering the debt.

Asked whether increasing bailiffs' powers would increase the success rate, the judiciary said it did not think this alone would help.

Mr Chan said the success rate for fieri facias orders was extremely low, and he heard many bailiffs had difficulty executing them, often because debtors pretended not to be home.

Short reach

The Bailiff's Office made 9,370 attempts to execute writs to seize property last year

Bailiffs succeeded in only this many cases: 1,118