Court system overhaul?

“While those with money can secure the finest legal provision in the world, the reality in our courts for many of our citizens is that the justice system is failing them – badly,” Mr Gove will say in a speech in London.

The new Justice Secretary will deliver a damning verdict on the “creaking and dysfunctional” court system, warning that is riddled by inefficiency and bureaucracy which compounds the suffering of crime victims.

In his report last year, which was commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Leveson said: “Our conduct of criminal trials was designed in the 19th century with many changes and reforms bolted on, especially over the last 30 years.”

“The result is that it has become inefficient, time-consuming and, as a result, very expensive.”

In The Independent this morning. It all focuses on criminal justice only, but may have consequences for civil cases too. Read the rest of the article.

Relief from sanctions, late witness statements and litigants in person


The judgment of Mr Justice Warren in Chadwick -v- Burling [2015] EWHC 1610 (Ch) highlights some important issues in relation to relief from sanctions in general, and the position of litigants in person in particular.

Reblogged from Civil Litigation Brief

Originally posted on Civil Litigation Brief:

The judgment of Mr Justice Warren in Chadwick -v- Burling [2015] EWHC 1610 (Ch) highlights some important issues in relation to relief from sanctions in general, and the position of litigants in person in particular.


The applicant in the case was the trustee in bankruptcy and bringing an action for possession and declarations of ownership in relation to a number of properties.  An order was made for the filing of evidence. The respondents did not file any evidence. A peremptory order was made that evidence be served by 5th August 2014 or the respondents be debarred from relying on evidence.

The second-respondent was the former wife of the bankrupt. She did not file evidence. She stated that she did not recall receiving the order, but did not positively state she did not receive it.

An application was made for relief from sanctions. That application was refused by the…

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Commonly agreed-on human rights

  • the right to medical care
  • the right to education
  • the right and the duty to perform socially useful work
  • the right to good working conditions
  • the right to such public help as may be necessary to make it possible for a person to support his or her family
  • the right to social security
  • the right to good food and housing and to live in surroundings that are pleasant and
  • the right to rest and leisure

What if you click but don’t collect?

Many retail chains offer a click-and-collect service. You select and pay for your purchases online, and on the following day or even later on the same day, you can go to a branch near you, or tube station or community location, and collect your purchases.

tomatoesBut what happens if you don’t collect your goods because another car collides with yours on the way to the store and you end up in hospital? Or simply because your train or plane is delayed? Continue reading

Water companies are public authorities and must therefore disclose environmental information

Originally posted on UK Human Rights Blog:

water_tapFish Legal v Information Commissioner and others (Information rights practice and procedure) [2015] UKUT 52 (AAC) Charles J – read judgment

Water and sewage utility companies are “public authorities” for the purposes of the environmental information regulations, and are bound by them accordingly, the Administrative Appeals Chamber of the Upper Tribunal has ruled.

Fish Legal is the legal arm of the Angling Trust. In 2009 it asked United Utilities Water plc and Yorkshire Water Services Ltd for information relating to discharges, clean-up operations, and emergency overflow. Emily Shirley is a private individual. Again, she asked Southern Water Services Ltd for information relating to sewerage capacity for a planning proposal in her village. All three companies denied that they were under a duty to provide the information under Environmental Information Regulations. Both Fish Legal and Mrs Shirley complained to the Commissioner. In 2010 the Commissioner replied, explaining that as the…

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The case of the stolen painting

This claim came before the Court of Appeal in 2003, from the Central London County Court via the High Court. Professor Norman Palmer represented the claimant.

This may be what the painting looked like.

This may be what the Jan Steen painting at the centre of this claim looked like.

If I travel to your town, pick your lock, take a lovely locket from your home and make sure to leave no trace of my presence, go to the post office and post the locket to my home or to someone else’s address, can you sue Royal Mail for having shipped the stolen locket if you somehow find out and can even prove that Royal Mail transported your locket? “Of course not.” I can hear you say it.

Royal Mail was just doing its job for which it had been paid (postage). It had no way of knowing that the box or envelope it shipped contained stolen goods. Royal Mail has no obligation to check whether the contents of a shipment might be stolen. If you tried to take it to court, you likely wouldn’t get far but the whole thing could cost you quite a bit of money. Continue reading

Why your stuff is my specialism

First of all, I often – but not always! – find these matters delightfully clear-cut, once I have all the details.

dancingThey’re also attractive to me for other reasons. They are matters of people acting, sometimes in bad faith, sometimes in good faith. They involve communications or the lack thereof, misunderstandings and assumptions.

They are matters that can happen to anyone. Rich or poor, black or white, straight or any other variation of private inclinations, British or foreign, blond or brunette, Tory fan or UKIP voter, company or private citizen, loyal to Labour or to LibDem, thief or saint, old or young. It does not matter who you are. Continue reading

Stress and the litigation process: how can lawyers make matters better?


From the original post:
“For us lawyers litigation is a technical process. For the litigants the effect of the litigation can have a major impact on their lives. ”

From a comment:
“It still amazes me that to date, as lawyers, we fail to appreciate the importance of actively listening and showing empathy when engaging with clients.”

Originally posted on Civil Litigation Brief:

There is a very useful article in the Solicitors Journal on stress and litigation (to avoid hyperbole I will not use the word “brilliant” but it deserves it.)  Hugh Koch analyse the sources of stress for litigants.  This made me think how little attention is paid to the “litigant’s view” of the litigation process. For us lawyers litigation is a technical process. For the litigants the effect of the litigation can have a major impact on their lives. There is little in our training (as barristers or solicitors) that helps us put ourselves in the litigant’s place and examine ways in which we can ease the stress to our clients.


The article examines the 24 main reasons for stress.  Some of which lawyers can deal with, some not.


Interestingly the number one reason for stress is “Being asked about the event again and…

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The case of the destroyed art

A few years ago, in 2009, an interesting case came before the High Court. It was interesting because like so many claims involving interference with goods, it was a story about people, about mistakes they make, misunderstandings between them. and things that can happen to them. It was also relatively complex because it was a claim against three defendants, with a fourth defendant in a Part 20 claim brought by two of the original defendants, with the first two defendants and the third also pointing fingers at each other.

The claimant was sculptor Terry New.

Nidus Sculpture at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Nidus Sculpture at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Continue reading

The real Alicia Florrick

I know Alicia Florrick in real life. She consists of two people.

One of them is a Dutch woman in Amsterdam. A long time ago, she was my next-door neighbour, in the year in which she had her first child. That daughter was named after me, because the parents liked the name. I still remember how the new dad knocked on my door one morning, asking me to spell my name while he wrote it down on a piece of paper in a hurry.

His partner had gone to law school, but something must have happened – or maybe she just had some doubts – and she quit. The couple later split. The woman had another child, a boy this time. She was a stay-at-home mother for many years, just like Alicia Florrick.

When the children were older, she went back to law school. She was allowed to keep her single-mother’s benefits. She and I were friends for a while; I too had gone back to university at a later stage in life. I was present at her graduation ceremony in one of Amsterdam’s university buildings, a former church in the city centre, near the Spui.

After graduating, she first had several temp jobs, mostly as a legal secretary. Then she struck gold and was hired by a government organisation. She went on to become one of the country’s top lawyers in health insurance issues. Now earning well and her children gone off into the world, she continues to live in the same house. At first sight, unpretentious and even a bit dowdy-looking and certainly not a smart dresser, she has none of the glamour that surrounds Alicia Florrick, but she goes on fancy vacations and is dating a medical doctor.

The other woman funnily enough may also have the Dutch nationality, but she lives in England and I think that she grew up here. She too experienced some kind of gap in her career. She had a small business for a while that had nothing to do with law. I don’t remember whether she went to law school later in life, or took a break from the law after graduating. It doesn’t matter.

She has all of Alicia Florrick glamorous appeal. Smart as a whip, kind, driven, flawless appearance, working internationally, looking very attractive, living in a top location married to a man she met within a professional context, now a mother, and heading a department in one of the world’s top ten law firms.

Both women started their law careers after a break in their lives. Both women went on to rise to the top. It is hard for me to imagine two women who look more different on the outside. If you saw them side by side on a street in London or while on vacation, you’d think that they have nothing in common. But they’re both Alicia Florrick.


Julianna Margulies

In a previous post, I talked about the many faces of the law. In my daily dealings, I often encounter persons who find law terribly stuffy and outdated and who have almost no grasp of legal concepts. Most people know much more about astronomy than they know about law, to my astonishment. Isn’t that odd?


Attorney “Alicia Florrick” played by Julianna Margulies in TV series “The Good Wife”

Of course, the legal profession has always been very reluctant to change and kept its circles closed. Law firms were not among the first to embrace word processing either and the idea of wigs and gowns alienates the public. The mythical aura that still surrounds the area of law reminds me of what science used to be like. Esoteric and incomprehensible.

Yet both science and law constantly affect our daily lives. Every time you go to the supermarket or to the cinema, you engage in contract law. Every time you bake a cake or fry an egg, you carry out science. Science has already managed to break out of its armour. Law is bursting at the seams.

The predictions are that the practice of law will change radically in the next five years in the UK. Consumers will increasingly become active participants, the way they now ask their GPs questions they didn’t dare consider a few decades ago. The public will develop a much clearer view of the workings of the various legal disciplines.

Many factors shape people’s ideas of what law is and of what lawyers do. Actress Julianna Margulies is one of them. She has played a lawyer several times. First as Neena Broderick, she portrayed lawyers as unscrupulous. She also starred as Elizabeth Canterbury, revealing a very different type of lawyer, fiercely defending innocent clients in her role of criminal defence lawyer.

These days, most people will know her as Alicia Florrick in “The Good Wife”. Alicia Florrick goes from being a former lawyer and housewife to heading up her own top firm together with character Cary Agos in a very short time, dealing with civil matters, and then she becomes State’s Attorney.

Does it surprise you to hear that Julianna Margulies is married to a lawyer? And not just any lawyer, but one who went to Harvard Law School? (And whose father is the former Director of the John L. Thornton China Center and who now works in Foreign Policy and Global Economy and Development at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, D.C.?) In an interview with The Scotsman, she commented:

“When I am learning my lines at night, I often get him to explain some legal term so I don’t have to look it up”.

Julianna Margulies grew up in Paris (France), Sussex (England), New York and New Hampshire.

Is law boring?

Law is boring, is what many people think. They connect it with their grandmother’s estate or with the paperwork for their first home. They may also remember stuffy wording.

Law is scary and creepy, is how many other people feel. It makes them think of crime and police, of burglaries and violence, and perhaps of victimhood.

But in the eyes of a third large group of people, law is sexy. They gobble up law on telly like their lives depend on it. While on vacation, they read one legal thriller after the next in their beach chairs. The Pelican Brief. The Good Wife. The Client. Ally McBeal. LA Law. The Firm. Silk. Perry Mason. The Lincoln Lawyer. Matlock.

Many writers of these legal thrillers are former lawyers. John Grisham practised criminal law for about ten years. Peter Moffat, the creator of series like Silk and North Square, is a former barrister.
Others covered a crime beat as a reporter, such as Michael Connelly.

Law is what you make it. What’s it to you?

Family court without a lawyer

I just stumbled upon a series of excellent videos about going to court on your own in family law matters. They are good to watch for litigants in person tackling other areas of law too.

I recommend going to the court at least once before the day of your hearing. That way, you will know where to go on the day of the hearing and you’ll know how long it takes you to get there.

Take into account that a hearing can suddenly be scheduled in a different building for logistic reasons if there are several courts on the same location. Always check with court staff in which room (and which building) your hearing will take place (and listen to any announcements on the public address system, if there is one).

Our Pay-Per-Period assistance package can include some practical training focused on several aspects of going to court on your own. As our assistance is tailored to our clients’ specific needs, this differs from client to client.

High Court bedroom tax victory

Picture a man and a woman who have been living in their home for nearly 30

The man has serious heart problems and arthritis and uses a stick. His wife also suffers from arthritis , has had multiple surgeries and is expected to need a wheelchair soon. Sometimes, the man’s mother, who suffers from dementia, stays in the home. It has been fully adapted to accommodate for the couple’s health problems.

Bring in the wretched bedroom tax and the retired bus driver
and his wife lose 25% of their housing benefit. Add a local council that acts unreasonably in its decision regarding a discretionary house payment (DHP). To cut a long story short, the High Court ruled for the couple, declaring the council’s decision “unlawful”.

You can read the High Court decision here and a related article by Ben Hurst in the Birmingham Mail here.

What shall we do with that beauty?

This afternoon, I spoke with someone who restores classic cars. Having an old beauty lovingly restored to its former glory can cost you a nice bundle. It can take some time too, particularly if you have trouble paying the restorer’s bills.

As long as there are major arrears, you cannot reasonably expect the restorer to continue working on the car indefinitely. A car in the middle of a restoration may not have wheels at that point, but it is still a movable chattel. If it does have wheels, it may not have a steering wheel. In most cases, the restorer cannot simply drive the car out of the garage and park it elsewhere for a short while.

While your car is sitting there, it becomes a deadweight, taking up the space of another car that could be restored instead. That’s lost income for the restorer who may also have staff for the number of cars that fit in his garage.

You, the owner of the car, are currently in arrears again, but already have paid as much as £75,000 in restoration costs. So what does the restorer do? Can he make arrangements and simply move your car out of his garage to make way for another classic beauty? And if he can, is he allowed to park it in the backyard or does he have to move it into another garage and protect it from the elements? Does there ever come a point at which the restorer can do as he pleases with the car? When does the bailment end?

Restorers can call the lawyers at their insurance companies for advice, but everyone may do that. if you walk into that garage one day and find that your classic beauty has disappeared, call me to discuss what to do next.

Starter tips for litigants in person

Would you love to have some tips for litigants in person as a handy PDF file? Complete the form below and press the “submit” button. I’ll send the starter tips right to your mailbox. (Current version: 5 March 2015.) You can also right-click on the image and select “save link as” to download and save the document on your computer.

It is not a comprehensive review, but it does what it says on the tin and contains links to a lot of useful documentation.