Monthly Archives: July 2015

Can anyone save Greece and, while we’re at it, can we also save Mozzarella from EU lunacy?

Having lived in Italy both pre and post the European Union, I’m surprised this EU marriage of assorted incompatible countries, which was definitely not a marriage made in heaven, has lasted this long. Historically, European Governments (and certainly in Mediterranean countries) have had enormous difficulty in efficiently running their own economies – so the idea that a central Government, run by bureaucrats from innocuous offices in Brussels could manage them all, was always a Panglossian scenario doomed to end up with one country or another or several ending up in the stew.

I don’t doubt there was some good intention behind forming the European Union. Open borders, one currency, easy trading – but it was always tenuous. We live on an Island and our only neighbours are Scotland (and that’s going well!!) Wales and Ireland and even those relationships are littered with dissent and the demand for independence. All the same, we just about manage to stay together under the heading of Great Britain and we have done for many years. But the relationship between the Italians, French, Germans and the Spanish (to name but a few European neighbours) prior to the EU, was frequently as collaborative and friendly as rival Pitbulls. The idea that Europe would unite and merge cultural and economic identities under one banner and one rule was always quite extraordinary.

Neither was it properly considered. Due diligence would have told anyone we are so culturally diverse in Europe, any collective rule book would have been as useful as a manual on aerospace technology for three year olds. The idea that Greece or Italy (for example) would conform to the same rules as Germany or France was just daft. I lived on the Italian French border for many years and the difference between Ventimiglia and Menton (about 5 miles distance) was so enormous it was just like entering a different country – because it was! What part of signing membership to the EU changed that scenario?

In my opinion the EU was never about what was best for people and always about what was best for the financial sector. And sooner or later it was always going to become impossible for voters in any country to have confidence in a system designed solely to feed the banks to the detriment of all else.

If the IMF decide in their wisdom to lay the blame entirely with the Greek people for this crisis, then I suggest they will find find they have a similar crisis with Spain and Italy (for starters) in the very near future. Even if (as the media would have us believe) Greeks really are the laziest and least trustworthy people in Europe – by whose standards are we judging them? By German standards? Are we saying Greeks are different to the Germans or the French and therefore they must change? Do the Greeks want to be like the Germans or the French? Or do they just want to be Greeks? Was the Greek economy on a sure footing before they joined the EU?

Ah but, I can hear people saying, in that case, they shouldn’t have joined Europe and borrowed so much money which they can’t pay back. And who engineered that situation? And who monitored it? Surely the top economists rounding up European countries for membership had some inkling that Greece was not economically stable – so how exactly did they qualify? As anyone in business (and especially the banking sector) knows, numbers on a page can be rearranged to tell a hundred different stories to a hundred different readers and someone obviously did some exceptional fantasy accounting for Greece. And who ever was regulating these figures somehow failed to notice two and two was never adding up to four.

Some might say it’s rather like the mess RBS or HBOS/Lloyds got themselves into which went (apparently) completely under the radar of the UK regulators. While the bank bosses were telling the world and his wife they were absolutely solvent, the truth of the matter was always bound to come out – they were completely broke and deeply in debt. Of course what happened there was the UK tax payer bailed the banks out even although it caused mass austerity. To add insult to injury, in the UK we continued to plough our banks and our top bankers with money and we refused (unlike Iceland) to hold anyone responsible for the catastrophe the banks caused. We even kept the obscene bonus system going.

Banks across the world were falling like nine pins during the so called ‘credit crunch’ and in the majority of cases the big banks were bailed out because they were “too big to fail.” Countries, it seems, are not. Fair enough – so Greece first and who is next?

The Greeks got themselves into this mess and now they can get themselves out of it is the attitude of the EU leaders. Although I can’t help feeling that the biggest offence Greece has committed against the EU has been to suggest it won’t be dictated to. How dare they tell EU leaders they won’t meekly submit their people to years and years of austerity and misery while they concentrate on pouring every possible Euro they can into paying off a debt that, realistically, is beyond repayment without some write offs? There has been a definite issue of ‘face saving’ here and the EUs big bosses have not taken kindly to the idea that the Greek people could have a say in economic affairs they clearly know nothing about! How many times do the ‘people’ have to be told “leave politics to the grown ups!” Hmmn – I think what they really mean is “leave politics to the bankers” who, as we all know, must continue to be paid millions of pounds for a job well done!

But Greece isn’t the only country in financial turmoil. And obviously the biggest issue with letting the Greek people have a say in their future is (God forbid) other economically badly behaved Europeans may follow suit. Worse still, when the European elite have finished blaming all the people of Europe, they may have to wake up to the fact the people of Europe are getting restless and some of them no longer care what a bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels think. If the EU was run so well and regulated so well, why isn’t it an overwhelming success? Could it be the so called credit crunch was the fly in the ointment? Could it be the financial sector has had a big hand in this problem? Could it be that the big banks like Goldman Sachs (busy doing God’s work) just saw Europe and its populations as a delicious example of cannon fodder? And especially countries like Greece. Sun, sea, chaos, corruption, no taxes – did the EU not know that was the deal with Greece? Did they think people joining the EU and the Euro would automatically abandon their Mediterranean heritage get into straight lines?

Culture with all its good points and its failings is still the very thing that make Europe unique. A host of countries with a completely different way of life dating back hundreds of years. If you wanted to go to somewhere very well organised with fantastic motorways and possibly an over fondness for pork, you went to Germany. If you wanted to go somewhere where life is very laid back, prone to siestas and fiesta’s and with very good fresh fish, you went to Greece or Italy or Spain. You changed your money and deliberately set off to visit somewhere completely different to your own country with different shops, food, habits, architecture and lifestyle. What was wrong with that?

Clearly something was because we now have a system where EU countries must now conform to a bland similarity based on nonsense rules that are totally open to abuse. And apparently some abuse the rules more than others – well there’s a surprise. But I wonder who are the greatest abusers in a decade where corruption is so wide spread? You can get it anywhere these days but some nations hide it better than others and some are better at managing it. Take the UK? Some would call it the money laundering centre of the world – but in EU negotiation terms, butter wouldn’t melt. In my opinion, turning Europe into a franchise of one big corporation like MacDonald’s was never going to work. You were always going to end up with hamburgers containing snails, garlic, anchovies, sardines, sauerkraut and “don’t worry, I make lamb.” Bankers may have thought all European countries would perform unilaterally if they all had the same currency – they couldn’t have been more wrong.

Europeans are ultimately all Nationalists – even the Brits, look at the somersaults the UK Government did to keep Scotland British. You can’t tell Greek or Italian or, heaven help us, the French or German people how to live. You can try and bribe their Governments with grants and loans and swaps, and it all goes swimmingly while there’s plenty of money to dole out. But when the coffers in one country run dry and other richer countries start imposing such harsh austerity people risk losing their shirts, is it surprising we all start remembering we’re individual nations again?

We don’t have the Euro in the UK and that is our saving grace. Love him or hate him David Cameron does put the British point across in his negotiations with Europe and they have to listen. Despite our internal conflicts (Scotland, the power the banks have, austerity blocking justice) we do at least have our own currency and therefore a bigger hand in running our own economy – and even if it’s a mess, neither the Germans nor the French can dictate what’s best for us. Maybe the Greek leaders have realised (before the rest of Europe does) that the views of the people they rule are more important than the corporations who just think they’re so important. Maybe the Greek people just want their country, their dignity and their identity back. And whatever it costs them now, might be less than it costs them (or other EU nations) in the future. Bankers, in the name of the EU, have run riot over Europe in a bulletless war for too long now. Maybe the Greeks are right to fight back?

One final example of why I believe the European Union is ultimately doomed. It’s a small example but it clearly shows the dangerous level of interference the EU wields over national heritage. Last Wednesday I was talking to a very good friend who lives in Ventimiglia. I used to live there and I remember the border coming down. So I was asking my friend how Ventimiglia was coping with the thousands of migrants stranded there because the French have now very definitely put the border back up so the immigrants can’t just wander over to Monte Carlo or St Tropez.

However my friend, who is a great foodie, was intent on telling me about the latest crack pot EU regulation. Check out this headline: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/11704323/Italy-EU-request-for-powdered-milk-in-mozzarella-is-attack-on-cultural-heritage.html

What meddling jobsworth came up with that idea? Is this really the kind of rule the EU was set up to introduce? Does anyone really want to be associated with such idiocy? Oh for the days of bent cucumbers, irregularly shaped tomatoes and interesting foreign currency.

I will keep praying for a miracle solution for the ordinary Greek people caught in the middle of these power struggles. Obviously, at this stage, only a miracle will suffice.

Being a litigant in person doesn’t make you a second class citizen.

OK – so it’s no great secret many Judges find dealing with litigants in person very frustrating. Fair enough and it’s also the case that litigants in person find the cuts in legal aid and the ever increasing court costs, which means they have no other option but self representation, equally frustrating. However, frustration is a very different scenario to biased, rude, contemptuous and sometimes corrupt conduct And unfortunately, in some cases, an independent bystander could come to no other conclusion than the fact this kind of conduct is happening in Courts across the Country.

Over the last 8 years I have repeatedly heard of or seen first hand where Judges, in the full knowledge a litigant in person, however much home work they have done, will not have the knowledge or skills of a trained professional in the Court, have abused their powers and literally attempted to denigrate or bully the defendant into submission. Recently I have heard this one too many times.

Illogical decisions, antagonistic attitudes and unreasonable demands are, it seems, an acceptable method used to close cases down. And while the learned Judge is obliging and polite to his colleagues, the same courtesy is sometimes conspicuously absent from the same Judge dealing with litigants in person.

I don’t for one minute pretend the majority of Judges behave like this and I know many of them go out of their way to show as much understanding and give as much latitude as possible to people who are struggling to put their case against legal professionals. However I take full responsibility for saying some do abuse their positions and are totally disrespectful of the public and the Court.

Why they do this is beyond me. Being a Judge is obviously one of the most serious jobs one can possibly have and it carries with it a huge responsibility. Why anyone would risk tarnishing their reputation with disreputable conduct in Court, is an anathema. But it does happen.

Here’s an extract from my book about HBOS which can’t be published until the Operation Hornet trials are over for reasons of sub-judice. This relates to a Judge’s comments at our (my family’s) 20th eviction hearing (out of 22) My husband represented us in 21 of those hearings as a litigant in person. *I’ve redacted the Judge’s name until the criminal trials are finished:

…..Still, despite their best efforts the Bank never managed to evict us although one Judge, XXXXXX, did allow the eviction and he also refused us permission to appeal. Judge XXXXXX presided over four of our eviction hearings and, for what ever reason (and I have no idea why) he was extremely antagonistic to us and he seemed rather keen we should be evicted. To the point when at one hearing in January 2010, which he had to adjourn because we were waiting for a final decision on our application for legal aid (we were pretty desperate to get legal representation) Judge XXXXXX told the barrister for the plaintiff, “it is with a heavy heart I am going to adjourn this matter.”And his comments to us were “Mr and Mrs Turner, you have come within a whisker of being evicted from your house” and “..this matter has been adjourned far too many times and I [he] will draw a line under it.” On 26th March 2010 he finally did grant the eviction and he also refused us permission to appeal. XXXXX [deputy Chairman of XXXXXX at the time] was also at that hearing. We had to make a verbal application in the High Court for permission to appeal – which was granted…..”

Our defence and reason we felt eviction was entirely unreasonable and unjustified was because a well documented bank fraud had caused our business to close and consequently resulted in mortgage arrears and yet the same bank was trying to evict us. Another Judge had gone so far as to say (to an exasperated barrister for the bank) that it would be reasonable for Paul and I to live in our house for the rest of our lives without paying the mortgage if our allegations were proven to be well founded. Given the Judge who allowed our eviction hadn’t heard that case, I still wonder on what grounds he had a heavy heart at not evicting us? Why would he want to evict anyone? And it was the very unpleasantness of his comments and the way in which they were delivered which I found so remarkable. And I genuinely felt this Judge felt entitled to belittle and intimidate us – as if we were something the cat had dragged into his court room.  Anyway I have used that as an example of perceived bias.

Here is an extract from ‘Guide to Judicial Conduct 2013’

4.2

A judge’s conduct in court should uphold the status of judicial office, the commitment made in the judicial oath and the confidence of litigants in particular and the public in general. The judge should seek to be courteous, patient, tolerant and punctual and should respect the dignity of all. The judge should ensure that no one in court is exposed to any display of bias or prejudice on grounds said in the Bangalore principle entitled “equality” to include but not to be limited to “race, colour, sex, religion, national origin, caste, disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, social and economic status and other like causes”. There should be no bias or prejudice on those grounds, which are described in the principles as “irrelevant grounds”. In the case of those with a disability care should be taken that arrangements made for and during a Court hearing do not put them at a disadvantage. Further guidance is given in the Judicial College’s Equal Treatment Bench Book. The duty of course remains on the judge to apply the law as it relates to allegedly discriminatory conduct.

It took me a while to find the above because when I keyed in Code of Conduct for Judges – there didn’t seem to be one! In the end I called a journalist friend who pointed me in the right direction. So it seems bias in a Court room is unacceptable? Maybe but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and making a complaint against a Judge after he or she has ruled against you (whether on unreasonable grounds or not) will not help you save your house or your business or help you get justice.

So what can anyone do to curtail this bad conduct? Like everything else that has gone wrong because of lack of transparency and elitist attitude, I think the only thing anyone can do is expose such conduct. If you’ve had a bad experience in a Court room and you feel a Judge has been rude, or biased or even corrupt, get the transcript and publish it. Maybe others (at arms length) will think you are wrong or over reacting because appearing in front of a Judge can be a very emotional experience which you may interpret more rationally a few days later  – so don’t put the heading ‘Dodgy Judge’ or any think like it. I suggest you call it something like ‘Does this seem right?’ and see what feed back you get. If enough people were to do this and if the same names repeatedly cropped up demonstrating this poor conduct against litigants in person, the appropriate authorities might then take some notice.

If any members of SME Alliance feel they’ve been subjected to poor treatment by a Judge and they have the transcript of their case, please sent it to smealliance2014@gmail.com and we’ll post it on the website for comment. I think it’s important to stand up against this sort of intimidation. SMEs are already highly disadvantaged in the civil courts against banks or big corporations with their deep pockets and teams of gold plated lawyers. So it is absolutely critical that the Judge remains totally impartial and doesn’t ruin the huge amounts of courage and confidence you need to put your case. It doesn’t look like the availability of legal aid will improve any time soon so we are all, Judges and litigants, stuck with each other for the foreseeable future. Unless a litigant in person is abusive or contemptuous, I see no reason why they (we) should be treated as second class citizens.

I would just finish by saying – I know a lot of people in the judiciary, lawyers, barristers, QCs and Judges. Most of them are extraordinarily intelligent, fair, good people. So please don’t think every court room is a torture chamber. But as in all barrels, a couple of rotten apples can completely ruin the cider and I am quite sure there are many in the judiciary who would be very grateful for clear examples of bad practice.