I wrote the blog below back in 2010 when Paul and I were still going through our 22 eviction hearings. I was reminded of it today when trying to help a member of SME Alliance who, in my opinion, is being treated absolutely appallingly as a litigant in person by the Court system. Don’t get me wrong – over the course of the last 10 years, I’ve come across far more good Judges than bad ones. I now know a lot of good lawyers and good barristers. But I have definitely recognised a more aggressive approach from the legal profession in general when they are representing banks.
Back in 2010 when we were being hammered by banks who were simultaneously insisting our allegations about the HBOS Reading fraud were absolutely unjustified while they tried to curtail our investigations by making us homeless, I wondered if the barristers working for HBOS/Lloyds would get a bonus if they managed successfully to take our family home.
Talking to our member today I had that same really worrying feeling. But this time I am also worried about the Judge who would not let the Mackenzie Friend speak on behalf of a 68 year old woman who is ill and confused. Even the other side (a Bank) had no objection to the MacKenzie Friend speaking. But as the Judge wouldn’t allow it, they gave the elderly litigant in person little leeway.
I know exactly what it’s like to have a Bank’s top legal bods against you in a County Court when you’re a litigant in person. I still question why a Bank was prepared to pay mega bucks to the Deputy Chairman of a huge law firm instructed by the Bank’s Board and not by our mortgage company to ensure our eviction (which never happened). I’d like to think the Bank in question would now be more considerate to litigants in person on the grounds that they may be right and a Bank should act with integrity.
Leaving aside the validity of our member’s case – I feel really concerned today to think our justice system would be a party to intimidating elderly litigants in person. Not least because some would say Paul and I, should we go through any more Court cases with HBOS/Lloyds, could also now be categorised as elderly! Fortunately we are not at all confused.
Here’s the blog from times I would rather not remember but, unfortunately, I still can’t put behind me.
Tuesday 19th January 2010 barristers/Courtrooms.
There’s an American man on Twitter who keeps tweeting the fact that justice is about being able to afford the best lawyers and to a certain extent he’s right – although thankfully, not completely. But it is a fact that litigants in person are extremely disadvantaged. First, they’re unlikely to know specifics of the law so when a barrister quotes another case as a precedent, it’s very hard for the litigant to counter it. Second and probably most important, the litigant in person is likely to be under enormous stress, so that even the most organised and eloquent of people will often not be able to produce the right document or say the right thing. Even with a Judge’s help it’s still easy to get things wrong. The barrister, on the other hand, is simply doing a job and an experienced barrister will have performed in Court many times so, he/she will not be at all nervous.
With that in mind, what I found so worrying yesterday, over and above the fact we had no legal representation, was the total lack of social conscience by the Bank’s legal team. The manipulation of truth and mis-representation of facts in the Court yesterday was extremely similar, if not identical to the way the entire HBOS Reading case has been handled by Lloyds/HBOS i.e. “what we are saying is right because we say so.”
I appreciate that a barrister must do the best job possible for his/her client but that brief now seems to have extended to doing or saying ‘what ever it takes’ and this does include manipulation of the truth. This must put a huge burden on Judges who, on the one hand must assume barristers don’t use manipulation or mis-representation because it would be so detrimental to the reputation of the cause of Justice and, on the other hand, must be able to recognise it when it does happen.
Here’s an example. Yesterday the Judge, being very thorough and fair, said he could not go ahead with the eviction while the issue of our Legal Aid funding was still outstanding and also while he hadn’t had a chance to consider the very large file of evidence Paul prepared. Paul has worked non stop on preparing our Court bundle for days and finished the final page at 2.00am the morning of the Hearing. There were over 400 pages in the file we gave to the Court. That is a fact – he worked on the document from 6.00 am every morning until very late at night for days and I really thought he was making himself ill through stress and lack of sleep BUT (and here’s an example of manipulation), the Bank’s barrister made every effort to try and persuade the Judge we deliberately filed a huge bundle at the last minute in order to get an adjournment. We couldn’t start the document until we received a response from Hector Sants, CEO of the Financial Services Authority and we didn’t get that reply until Thursday 7th January.
The barrister’s attack was strangely personal and the implication was that we were trying to trick the Court. If a litigant in person were to call into question the veracity or integrity of a barrister in that way, I imagine the Court would look on such behaviour as being quite outrageous and possibly libellous. But over the course of our 18 eviction hearings, I’ve noticed the barristers have become more and more personally aggressive. Top of the list for this behaviour does not actually go to the barrister against us yesterday but all the same, he did go to some lengths to try and convince the Judge we were either devious or incompetent or both.
It is bad enough that huge Corporations have become more and more immune to the social consequences of their actions but if that behaviour is now able to creep into Court rooms, then we really are in trouble. Under any circumstance an eviction hearing is a horribly stressful and emotional trial – it is considerably worsened by the use of legal manipulation. Surely, the practise of denigration should not be seen as a useful courtroom tool?
My point is – at a time when repossessions are likely to increase because of the Credit Crunch and given the huge roll the banks played in that, I really think it’s time the Government took a good hard look at the whole matter of evicting people.
According to Government guidelines, eviction should only be used as an absolute last resort but our case (or 18 hearings) proves that banks will go to extraordinary lengths to evict people and their methods are getting increasingly immoral. One barrister in a previous hearing actually went so far as to shake his finger at the Judge and to tell him his Court had no right nor jurisdiction NOT to evict us. In that particular instance I think the barrister was even more offensive to the Judge than he was to us. He was so absolutely determined to secure our eviction, I couldn’t help wondering if he was going to get a bonus if successful? And yesterday’s performance made me wonder the same thing.
If such a diabolical situation were to be true then it’s a very sad reflection on where the British justice system is and I would urge this Government or who ever wins the election to take a good hard look at how far Corporate immorality is being allowed to spread. Ours is a very particular case I know and most eviction cases are not as a result of a massive bank scandal or fraud. But more and more cases of eviction are related to what the banks have done to this Country and it would be entirely wrong if the immorality that so underpinned the Credit Crunch was to now find its way into our Courtrooms to get people out of their homes at all costs. And to a certain extent I’m certain it has.
A friend who is a barrister explained to Paul that they (barristers) work on the information given to them by the client. Therefore, if they say something in Court that the litigant in person (or the opposing legal team) believes to be a pack of lies, it’s likely that is the information they were given. That’s a very handy excuse and it doesn’t explain the process of denigration or mis-representation. It’s highly unlikely that the Bank’s barrister yesterday had not read anything about our case in the press. He’s from chambers in Cambridge and our local newspaper has covered the story extensively.
Additionally, journalist Ian Fraser has written articles and blogs about what happened at HBOS Reading. So, in this instance, the barrister must know about our allegations of fraud and the fact the matter is being investigated by the FSA (we have also raised these points in Court with the same barrister several times). His client (Lloyds/HBOS) will obviously have said our allegations are a pack of lies and on that basis and because he obviously can’t act against his clients wishes, he must act on their version of events and not ours. But the determination to evict us by some barristers seems to be going further than that. If the issue is mortgage arrears where is the need to malign us? It’s fair enough for a barrister to push for what his client wants but why try and convince a Judge that we are cheats or liars?
In reality, it’s no skin off the barristers nose whether we get evicted or not – he still gets his fee for the day in Court. Or is that fee conditional in some cases? In the same way that some bankers took extraordinary risks with other people’s money so they could make balance sheets look good and therefore get their bonuses, are we now seeing barristers taking extraordinary risks with justice for similar reasons? Of course I don’t know if this is the case but I am beginning to suspect it is.
I still have no idea why HBOS or Lloyds consider the best way to resolve the HBOS Reading issue is to evict us – or why they go to such extraordinary lengths to try and make the eviction a reality rather than just resolving the issue. But our 18 hearings have made me think very seriously about how horribly wrong things are possibly going in Court rooms. Corporations are putting pressure on legal professionals to use the Corporate’s own immoral standards against the public. There was no reason for the barrister yesterday to personally denigrate Paul and I but he did so repeatedly. Fortunately the Judges in the Cambridge County Court have all been very fair and as a consequence we have not been evicted. But that doesn’t alter the unethical behaviour of Lloyds/HBOS or the legal team working on their behalf, their instruction and their information. So I can’t help but feel some banks are doing their best to spread their unwholesome lack of morality and their lack of social conscience via the legal profession into UK Courtrooms.
We have seen yesterday’s barrister in Court quite a few times now. He has had a definite change in attitude. Not for the better.