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Does Form N24 of the county court (general form of judgment or order) require a judge’s name or signature? If so, then what is the effect of one missing them? Does it have any implications on the validity of it at all?

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In summary,

  • An order of the County Court is meant to have the judge's name and court seal, but conventionally will not include a signature.
  • Form N24 is submitted by a party to the case, as a proposal for the court to make an order in the given terms, and naturally wouldn't be sealed at the time of submission.
  • Even if a court order has some formal defect, you still have to obey it.

What Form N24 is and does

Form N24 is used when a party to a civil case proposes that the court should make a certain order. They write down the words that they would like the court to endorse. The court could go along with the proposal, or do something different, and naturally there will be disagreements and counterproposals about what it ought to do. Orders of court can also be made on its own initiative, without waiting for someone to make a suggestion.

But any order made by the court will have the same formal structure, reflected on Form N24. That includes the actual text of the order (the big box), which might say things like "Defendant is to pay Claimant the sum of £200". It names the parties, the court, and the case number. There is also a little circle labelled SEAL, which is where the court seal will be placed in order to convert an ordinary piece of paper into an actual order of the court. In practice, that will be a stamp rather than an elaborate affair involving wax and ribbons.

When a party submits Form N24, they do not put the judge's signature on it, and they do not seal it. It's not a court order yet, just a proposed draft of one.

When a judge (or in some situations, a court officer) wants to make an order - whether it originates on a submitted Form N24 or not - they arrange with court staff for the appropriate adminstrative actions to take place, including updating the case records, making copies, using the stamp, distributing copies, etc. The text of the order will include the name of the judge, and it will show the date it was made (which may be different from the date when it was sealed). In the Magistrates' Court, for historical reasons, orders are signed instead of being sealed. But the seal and signature serve the same function of demonstrating that the document is authentic.

The court can make a new order varying the terms of a previous sealed order, but this is only meant to be done in order to correct a mistake. Conceptually, once the order is sealed, it is final and can be used in order to enforce its terms, e.g. obtaining that £200 from Defendant.

What information court orders must have on their face

The Civil Procedure Rules go into detail on this topic in Rule 40 and the accompanying Practice Direction 40B. In particular, for the metadata mentioned in the question above, Rule 40.2(2)(b) says that

[Every judgment or order must] be sealed by the court.

Rule 40.1 also says that

Every judgment or order must state the name and judicial title of the person who made it [...]

with a catalogue of exceptions for when the order is made by a court officer rather than a judge.

When court orders have something wrong with them

The Supreme Court recently revisited the problem of defective court orders in R (Majera) v Home Secretary [2021] UKSC 46, and endorsed a strong line of authority going back at least to 1846. In that year, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Cottenham, giving judgement in Chuck v Cremer 1 Coop temp Cott 338; 47 ER 884 said:

A party, who knows of an order, whether null or valid, regular or irregular, cannot be permitted to disobey it. It did not even signify whether the order was drawn up. That there were many cases in which a party had been held to have committed a contempt for disobeying an order, which had not only not been served, but had not even been drawn up. It would be most dangerous to hold that the suitors, or their solicitors, could themselves judge whether an order was null or valid - whether it was regular or irregular. That they should come to the Court and not take upon themselves to determine such a question. That the course of a party knowing of an order, which was null or irregular, and who might be affected by it, was plain. He should apply to the Court that it might be discharged. As long as it existed it must not be disobeyed.

The Supreme Court confirmed at para 45,

Notwithstanding the paradox involved in this use of language, a court order which is "null" must be obeyed unless and until it is set aside.

They considered this principle to relate to the rule of law in general, as respect for court orders is critical to the functioning of the courts at all. They wanted parties to steer well clear of feeling able to decide for themselves whether an order should be followed.

In light of the many other cited cases in the Supreme Court judgement, it is clear that an apparently defective "order of court" should still be treated as binding until the court itself has resolved the issue. If the order is real then the court can do the necessary formal steps that were missed originally, or simply confirm that the order does indeed reflect what the court had intended to order. If it contained some serious mistake then it is up to the court to remedy the situation (and not the parties to the case). If it were a total forgery then a very different course of events would follow.

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  • "Even if a court order has some formal defect, you still have to obey it": is that true if the defect could be cause to doubt the order's authenticity? If, for example, the order lacks the court's seal, how would you know that it had actually been issued by the court?
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 10:38
  • @phoog Well, you can ask the court. I think there are quite different scenarios for (1) if you're in ongoing proceedings and receive an order in the terms you vaguely expect but they forgot to stamp it, (2) someone comes to you out of the blue waving a napkin that says "give him £200, lots of love, the County Court" in felt tip. I'd say that the court would like to know if someone is going around forging their orders so contacting them promptly seems reasonable.
    – alexg
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 11:10

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