When civil litigation ends, the prevailing party seeks to enforce the final judgment. This is usually the payment of money, seizure of property, or an order to do or refrain from an activity. In some countries, the prevailing party (the “judgment creditor”) may pursue enforcement while appeal is pending, though the judgment debtor may seek a stay of execution.
Nations vary in the enforcement mechanisms for judgments. The process is usually set forth in the civil procedure code. However, litigants may face significant obstacles, including limited access to information, complex procedures or failure to enforce procedures, rigid institutional bureaucracy, court backlog and delay, and possibly, corruption.
An enforcement officer, often called a bailiff or marshal or sheriff, may be tasked to compel compliance, especially if enforcement requires the exercise of force, such as in eviction, mandated seizure, or if the losing party does not comply with the court’s initial order. These enforcement officers may be civil servants employed or supervised by the court.
In most countries, the presiding judge or a court official is involved. The judgment creditor may be required to request an enforcement order from the court. In some civil law countries, enforcement can be affected by using an execution or enforcement title: an official document (usually issued by the court) that lacks the status of a final judgment but can be used for enforcement purposes.
There is a growing trend to privatize certain enforcement duties in civil law countries. For example, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have enforcement specialists empowered to exercise more control over enforcement strategy for complex cases. Other countries, like Sweden and Iceland, have an independent governmental agency that enforces judgments; bailiffs in these countries are not part of the judiciary.
Enforcement of Domestic Judgements Around the World
In some civil law countries, enforcement can be affected by using an execution or enforcement title: an official document, usually issued by the court, which lacks the status of a final judgment but can be used for enforcement purposes. In Italy, the enforcement judge or a special judicial officer, the ‘ufficiale giudiziario,’ are responsible for enforcement proceedings. These proceedings commence when the judgment creditor receives the enforcement title. There are different types of enforcement titles in Italy; some are court judgments or arbitral awards, while others are special documents drafted by public notaries.
In Argentina, the prevailing party can petition a court (federal or provincial) directly for enforcement, without having to secure a declaration of enforceability. Notice must be given to the opposing party. If no defense is raised, the court will order compliance. If interim measures are requested, the petitioning party must post security.
By contrast, in Turkey, judgments are enforced through a separate execution office. The prevailing party does not need to retain an attorney to seek enforcement; they need only file a certified copy of the court’s decision. The execution office serves the opposing party with notice that enforcement is being sought. The prevailing party may seek enforcement even if the judgment is not yet final. The judgment debtor may seek a stay of enforcement but must post security of a sum that will cover the judgment.
In Japan, after being notified by a court clerk that the judgment is final and has been served on the opposing party, the prevailing party may seek enforcement. They must obtain a certificate authorizing compulsory enforcement and then apply for enforcement with the enforcement court or a court enforcement officer.
In Egypt, the judgment creditor submits the enforcement request to the head of the enforcement agency. A court bailiff serves the judgment debtor with notice and can execute a cautionary attachment of property without a court order. The judgment debtor can file an appeal contesting the execution of judgment.
An attorney (barrister or solicitor) is usually required to enforce a court judgment in England and Wales, except those involving small sums of money. Enforcement proceedings are usually made by application to the county court or a high court. The application must include a copy of the judgment and details about the remedy and any pending appeals. An initial “charge order” may be made without notice to the judgment debtor. This order precludes the debtor from disposing of assets. In order to obtain a final order, notice must be given.
In the United States, the prevailing party may seek enforcement of a judgment while appeal is pending, but a court may stay enforcement pending resolution of the appeal. The enforcement process is governed by state law and these laws vary by state. Some states require that a judgment be registered, others require the judgment creditor to file a new civil lawsuit for enforcement or obtain a writ of execution. In California, the California Sheriff’s Department is responsible for enforcing judgments. In Florida, the clerk of court issues a writ of execution ordering the sheriff to seize property or funds.
In Singapore, the prevailing party may seek a writ of seizure through an ex parte summons, supported by an affidavit. The writ directs a sheriff or bailiff to seize the property. In Bermuda, an application for enforcement of a final judgment must be made to a court, with a supporting affidavit.