Supreme Court emblems cost taxpayer £50k

Posted On Sep 30 2020 by

first_imgThe Treasury’s coffers may presently echo to the ghostly rustle of rolling tumbleweed, but no expense has been spared for Britain’s new Supreme Court. Taxpayers have paid nearly £50,000 for the design of not one but two emblems for the institution, a freedom of information request has revealed. A formal emblem for the court as a whole cost £26,200, and a second ‘informal’ design for court number 2 a further £23,156 (see Obiter). The bill for the formal insignia included the cost of its design and development by Yvonne Holton, redrawing and presentation to the Queen by the Garter King of Arms, and development of the symbol in an electronic and adaptable format by Redpath design consultants. The cost of the emblem in court 2 included the design, manufacture and installation of the glass art piece. The Ministry of Justice declined to reveal the amount paid to Sir Peter Blake for designing the court’s carpet, which features repeated images of the motif, citing commercial confidentiality. The cost of laying the carpet was included in the £36.7m capital construction fee paid to Kier Group for the overall renovation. The total set-up costs came to £58.9m. About £1.6m was spent on fitting out the courtrooms and interior in a way that is ‘appropriate to a Grade II listed building and reflects the importance of the institution’. The court opens on 1 October.last_img read more


A look at the latest changes to the Civil Procedure Rules (50th update)

Posted On Sep 30 2020 by

first_imgThe Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2009 (SI 2092) were made on 28 July 2009 and, with certain exceptions, come into force today. They are accompanied by an update (the 50th) containing amendments to the practice directions which are such a key part of the modern system. Do not be alarmed by their length. They are nothing like as daunting as mere size would suggest. From today the House of Lords ceases to be the final appeal court for England and Wales. Under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, a new Supreme Court is created and the law lords transfer to it as justices of the Supreme Court. A series of amendments to the CPR is necessary as a consequence, substituting ‘Senior Courts’ for the old meaning of ‘Supreme Court’. Part 35 and PD35, concerning experts, have been reviewed. There is a general consensus that this is an area where the CPR are working well. Accordingly, the review has resulted only in some ‘tidying up’ amendments and not fundamental change. But the new part 35 and PD35 will need to be read by all lawyers and experts. The new mandatory statement of truth in an expert’s report is: ‘I confirm that I have made clear which facts and matters in this report are within my own knowledge and which are not. Those that are within my own knowledge I confirm to be true. The opinions I have expressed represent my true and complete professional opinions on the matters to which they refer’. This new wording is found in the ‘protocol for the instruction of experts to give evidence in civil claims’, which in turn is found in the annex to the new PD35. Further, by new paragraph 13.5 of the protocol, experts’ reports must contain statements that they (i) understand their duty to the court and have complied with and will continue to comply with it; and (ii) are aware of the requirements of part 35, PD35, this protocol and the PD on pre-action conduct. New definitions of ‘expert’ and ‘single joint expert’ are provided. Typical tidying up amendments include:(i) making provision for written questions to experts to be proportionate (rule 35.6(1));(ii) amending rule 35.4(4) enabling the court to limit the amount of an expert’s fees and expenses that can be recovered from another party;(iii) providing in small claims and fast-track cases that permission will normally only be given to call expert evidence on a particular issue from one expert (rule 35.4(3A));(iv) providing that where an application is made for permission to rely on an expert the application must identify the field in which expert evidence is required and, where practicable, the name of the proposed expert; and (v) amending rule 35.7 (court’s power to direct that evidence is to be given by a single joint expert). Part 65 had previously been amended to provide for ‘drink banning orders’ under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. The Home Office then decided that the act was not to be brought into force and so part 65 was amended again to delete the provisions. The Home Office has now decided that it does want them after all so section VI of part 65 is re-inserted. These provisions are in force from 31 August 2009. Part 79 is amended to insert provision for notification orders (made by the High Court under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 and the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008). A new part 63 (intellectual property claims) is substituted. There are important amendments to part 44 (general rules about costs) in relation to ‘publication cases’ (defamation and similar cases). Insurance premiums for an after-the-event (ATE) policy cannot be recovered for any period if the required information about the policy was not given. Further, an ATE premium cannot be recovered in ‘costs only’ proceedings if an admission of liability leading to settlement was made within 42 days of being given the required information. Provision is made in part 68 for a reference to the European Court to include a request for a preliminary ruling under that court’s urgent preliminary ruling procedure. Rules 6.3, 6.20, 74.6 and part 49 are all amended as a consequence of the remaining provisions of the Companies Act 2006 being brought into force. A new practice direction (electronic working pilot scheme) supplements rule 5.5. It applies for a pilot scheme to operate in the Admiralty, Commercial and London Mercantile Courts of the High Court at the Royal Courts of Justice (although it may be extended to other courts) for the period 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010 for claims started on or after 1 April 2009. Practice direction 2A is amended to provide a formula (in the form of a table) which clearly shows on which days court offices will close over the Christmas period. This avoids the need for the lord chancellor to make ‘closure orders’ each year. There is always one extra day to Christmas Day and Boxing Day and this will vary according to which day of the week Christmas Day falls on. It means that there is always a period of three days between Christmas and New Year when court offices are open (and, in some cases, sitting). A new practice direction 51D (defamation proceedings costs management scheme) supplements parts 29 and 44. It introduces a pilot scheme to operate from 1 October 2009 to 30 September 2010 at the Royal Courts of Justice and the District Registry at Manchester in proceedings which include allegations of libel, slander and/or malicious falsehood. It provides for costs management based on the submission of detailed estimates (in the form of precedent HA) for future base costs, that is compulsory costs budgeting. It may be appropriate for cases commenced elsewhere to be transferred to London or Manchester. The mortgage pre-action protocol, which sets out the steps which a lender must now take before issuing proceedings, has been amended to include a prescribed checklist, two copies of which lenders must bring to the hearing. A mixed bag. No one will be interested in all of it, but every civil litigator will need to know some of it. District Judge Hill sits at Scarborough County Court. He is a member of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee and visiting professor of law at Leeds Metropolitan Universitylast_img read more


‘Tesco law juggernaut halted’ in Scotland

Posted On Sep 30 2020 by

first_imgScottish solicitors opposed to the introduction of alternative business structures yesterday hailed the ‘halting of the Tesco law juggernaut’ north of the border, following a heated debate over the future of the nation’s legal profession. At a special meeting held in Edinburgh’s Murrayfield stadium, the 10,500-strong Law Society of Scotland bowed to fierce opposition from grassroots members and agreed to review its policy of support for the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, the progress of which may now be delayed at Holyrood. Law Society president Ian Smart, who admitted to the meeting that the Society had been given ‘a kick in the appropriate part of the anatomy’ by ‘Tesco law’s’ opponents, adjourned the meeting to hammer out a compromise. Smart insisted that reform was necessary, however, in particular so that Scottish firms can compete with their English counterparts when ABSs are allowed south of the border from October 2011. The adjournment sparked a furious response from one of the leading opponents of reform, Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly, who accused Smart of ‘shaming democracy’ by ‘using a technicality’ to avoid putting the matter to a vote. Yesterday’s meeting was requisitioned by 1,500-strong lobby group the Scottish Law Agents Society, which has spearheaded opposition to the reforms in recent months. It has provided a forum for smaller firms disillusioned by the Society’s decision to back the reforms at a meeting in 2008, when the majority in favour was boosted by proxy votes from the country’s so-called ‘big four’ firms – Dundas & Wilson, McGrigors, Maclay Murray & Spens and Shepherd & Wedderburn. It is estimated that more than 2,000 solicitors voted to oppose external ownership of practices in advance of yesterday’s meeting, while about 900 were in favour. This triggered a break in proceedings for discussions between Law Society officials, Michael Scanlan, president of the Scottish Law Agents Society (SLAS), and others. A likely compromise floated on Friday is a proposal to ensure the majority ownership of any legal practice should remain in the hands of solicitors. A revised motion is expected to be submitted at a reconvened meeting; however, the saga is further complicated by the fact that a one member, one vote referendum on ABSs overseen by the Electoral Reform Society is already under way. In a statement after the meeting, Smart said: ‘The Legal Services (Scotland) Bill proposes major changes. There is no disguising that there are differing opinions within the profession on this. However, all sides must be happy that there is now a fuller engagement with these issues and it would be churlish not to acknowledge the contributions of the Scottish Law Agents in that process. ‘It was clear that as the debate proceeded today the two sides may not be as far apart as perceived prior to the meeting. The decision to adjourn was taken in the hope that we might yet reach agreement on a way forward that is acceptable to the vast majority of our membership. ‘It is clear that in any approach to the government, we are likely to secure a fairer hearing if we can show that we are speaking for a united profession. ‘The Society’s referendum is currently underway and it would be inappropriate to stop that process. However, in any way forward it will remain the case that the Society’s council will be informed not only by the referendum result, but by the sentiments and contributions expressed today.’ Scanlan said: ‘While SLAS would have preferred for the vote to have been taken today, the adjournment motion proposed by the Law Society of Scotland was democratic and carried by a majority decision of those present. The proxy votes will still count at the adjourned SGM. ‘Some 3,282 proxies (not all in our favour) were cast and this is a record. We can be proud that we have stimulated so much debate within the profession. We believe that the debate is in the best interests of the profession. I look forward to continuing the debate at the adjourned SGM.’ Dailly said yesterday’s meeting heralded the ‘halting of the Tesco law juggernaut’, but went on to accuse the Law Society of subverting the democratic will of its members. He wrote on his blog: ‘Despite Mr Smart having previously challenged opponents of Tesco Law to ‘bring it on’, he faced a humiliating defeat today which he, council members, and a small number of multimillionaire big firm partners refused to face for fear of certain defeat. ‘Approximately 2,300 solicitors had granted proxy votes against Tesco law, with only around 921 in favour of the Law Society’s position. As the prospect of defeat presented itself to the Law Society’s minority elite they tried desperately to nobble the democratic will of the majority opposition. ‘They called for a comfort break and asked opponents if they would agree to a restriction on external ownership whereby ABS providers would be required to have a majority of solicitors. The opposition agreed to enter into dialogue after the SGM but refused to compromise their motion, and pressed for a vote. ‘Facing certain defeat, Scotland’s Law Society president called for the meeting to be adjourned and seized upon a technical rule whereby only those present in the room could vote, resulting in over 3,000 proxy member votes being discounted. The net result was that 70 members of the profession – including around 50 council members and a handful of multimillionaires – voted to disenfranchise the democratic will of over 3,200 members.’ Dailly, who had called for Smart’s resignation at the meeting, added later: ‘This is a dark day for Scotland’s legal profession. Democracy has been shamed, denied and abused by a small elite of 70 members, against the clear will and voice of 2,300 members who had voted against Tesco Law. The council of our Society has lost all credibility today. You can deny a democratic vote by filibuster or technicality, but the only loser is the reputation of our profession which now lies in tatters after this affront to democracy.’last_img read more


Solicitor jailed for stealing £850,000 from clients

Posted On Sep 30 2020 by

first_imgA sole practitioner from north-west London has been jailed for two years after he confessed to stealing more than £850,000 from clients. David May, 69, destroyed a 46-year unblemished reputation in the profession after dipping regularly into a £280,000 estate he was handling, and writing up 56 bogus bills for non-existent work – costing unsuspecting clients more than £70,000. May, a sole practitioner at May & Co of Edgware Road, Kingsbury, in north-west London, admitted to stealing £861,645.28 from his firm’s client account between 13 July 2006 and 9 May 2009. Prosecutor Brett Weaver said the money went on personal living expenses and running his practice. ‘His professional indemnity insurance costs increased and the firm was not earning enough to cover the expenses of the business and his personal costs,’ said Weaver. ‘He says he intended to repay the money, but things went spiralling out of control. He used the [client account] as his own personal bank account.’ A Solicitors Regulation Authority spokesman said that any clients who have lost money as a result of May’s dishonesty or failure to account will be reimbursed from the compensation fund. The SRA is currently dealing with about 20 applications relating to the firm. Southwark Crown Court recorder Andrew Campbell-Tiech QC said: ‘The public’s perception of lawyers, which for some may be low, can only be damaged. It is a gross breach of trust.’ He added: ‘He [May] must have known [this] would be uncovered and must have spent much time in secret terror.’ May, who told police his lifestyle was ‘good to extravagant’, has been ordered to repay £156,061 within six months or spend an extra two years in prison. The City of London Police Economic Crime Directorate was called in by the SRA after May, a first-time offender, confessed to the thefts. He told an SRA investigator that he had duped his accountant into believing the huge transfers were lawful, and after taking money from one estate, used another £360,000 estate to plug the gaps. A total of 109 thefts of client money were identified during the period, and May stole at least £10,000 per month between 2006 and 2008. May has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for alleged breaches of accounts, code of conduct and practice rules. May & Co was closed down by the SRA in June on several grounds, including dishonesty.last_img read more


Reasonable charges

Posted On Sep 30 2020 by

first_imgMay I be allowed to respond to Ms Watson’s letter in the 3 June Gazette, from the point of view of the solicitor acting for the management company? I frequently receive requests for information from solicitors acting for buyers and sellers of flats. Invariably, I receive a pre printed questionnaire which asks for different information depending on which solicitor has supplied it. Often no thought appears to have been given to obtaining the information from the seller/client direct; for example the amount of the current service charge and when it is payable. The seller should also have copies of the service charge accounts. He or she should also know when the property was last decorated. Very often, information requested has to be checked with the landlord/management company concerned; for example whether any unusual service charge expenditure is contemplated. If a deed of covenant or licence to assign is required and is sent out in draft, it is frequently returned either incorrectly completed or even not completed at all. This is particularly true with regard to the details of the lease which have to be checked to ensure that they are accurate. Finally, one has to check there are no arrears of service charge, often more than once, as completion dates are altered. Once the matter is completed and notices served, this information has to be supplied to the freeholder/management company so that they can arrange to collect ground rent/service charges from the new owners for the correct period. All this takes time and correspondence, if not phone calls and emails. In view of the amount of work involved, which Ms Watson appears to be unaware of, I consider the fees referred to in her letter are very reasonable. It would be helpful if the Law Society or local law societies could devise a standard form of enquires of a flat management company or landlord of a flat in similar terms to the CPSE enquiries. This would make the solicitor’s task simpler and therefore cheaper. Geoffrey Freeman , Freemans Solicitors and Notaries, Liverpoollast_img read more


Big screen actress sends law reeling

Posted On Sep 30 2020 by

first_imgObiter sat in rapt silence while a young Roma man, for reasons unexplained, wrestled with a German shepherd dog before throwing himself off a cliff into the roiling waters below. Obiter was at the Strasbourg launch of the exquisitely named Fanny Ardant’s six-minute film Chimères Absentes (Departed Dreams). The French actress and film producer made the film to support the Council of Europe’s campaign to protect the continent’s 12 million Roma people from discrimination. The, story, filmed in Italy, is of a Roma child excluded from school lunches because her family cannot afford to pay for them. The moral of the tale, it seemed, is that the Roma are in touch with a mystical reality that the settled community is too materialistic and crass to perceive. Not everybody in the audience sympathised. A Romanian journalist ventured that the Roma have ‘problems with the law’ and do not pay taxes. Obiter sat in chastened silence as Ardant accused the law of ‘crushing’ the distinctiveness of different cultures. Read about the campaign at the Council of Europe’s website.last_img read more


Scrapping regulation reform for private landlords shows no foresight

Posted On Sep 30 2020 by

first_img Debra Wilson is a partner at Anthony Gold and a member of the Law Society housing law committee In his first speech as housing minister, Grant Shapps announced that the government was scrapping recommendations to further regulate the private rented sector. He said further regulation would ‘create burdensome red tape and bureaucracy’ for good landlords. Local authorities will be urged to use their existing powers to tackle rogue landlords. Research shows that, over the last century, there has developed an increasing reliance on the private rented sector to accommodate a diverse market, ranging from housing benefit claimants to luxury properties for business people. It is this flexibility which has given rise to the private rented sector’s expansion. As a Law Society housing committee member, I worked on draft responses to the Law Commission’s 2007 consultation paper Encouraging Responsible Letting. It is unfortunate timing that the culmination of work in this area coincided with a change of government, just when the summary of responses from stakeholders was about to be progressed. The new government has acted with a lack of foresight in not adopting recommendations that could make a real impact in creating a much-needed framework to ensure a sustainable private rented sector. A new regulatory structure was considered necessary to encourage compliance with legislative provisions already in place, in circumstances where too many rented properties are poorly managed. The focus was on creating a National Register of Landlords, recommended as a means of: providing better safeguards for tenants; assisting local authority enforcement activity; providing information and support for landlords; and seeking better evidence about the sector. There are one million landlords in England, of which nearly 75% are individuals not registered or regulated by any specific body. Tales abound of competing interests of landlords and tenants, but conflicts also exist between landlords and their appointed managing agents. Unregulated agents often do not have professional indemnity insurance or audited bank accounts. Invariably, they hold the client’s funds with their business funds, which offers no protection to a landlord if the agent’s business fails. The general consensus is that local authorities do not have the resources to undertake adequate enforcement action. The residential market remains a sector where regulation has developed piecemeal. The current system of achieving compliance through local authority enforcement has not proved effective solely because of a lack of resources, but also because of the piecemeal way in which certain housing management standards have evolved to regulate landlord activities. A range of remedies may be invoked, involving both criminal and civil sanctions; but there is no central, overarching body that can monitor if powers are being used. There was agreement among stakeholders that the new measures should not deter new providers. They envisaged a ‘light touch’ national register of every private landlord in England. This was to have worked alongside an improved complaints procedure for tenants to register complaints about sub-standard landlords, who could then in some circumstances be removed from the register. It was recognised that such a scheme may require tenants to report sub-standard housing in circumstances where they fear to do so because of the threat of eviction. Plans were under discussion to bolster the proposed national register with a regulatory body to monitor and enforce housing standards and prevent misuse of section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 notices. Citizens Advice Bureau report The Tenant Dilemma considered how some landlords would use section 21 notices to evict tenants who complained about disrepair to their accommodation. The report recommended a mechanism for tenants to halt their eviction under section 21 if they could show it was a retaliatory eviction. The paper suggested use of section 21 notices could be restricted to landlords registered with the national accredited scheme. There is a need for further debate about retaliatory evictions, even if the better regulation framework has been discarded. last_img read more


Hammonds agrees latest transatlantic merger

Posted On Sep 30 2020 by

first_imgPartners at national firm Hammonds and US firm Squire Sanders & Dempsey have approved a merger of the firms, creating a 1,275-lawyer transatlantic practice with $625m (£387m) in combined revenues. The new firm, which will span 17 countries and 37 offices, will be named Squire Sanders & Dempsey. Where Hammonds has a strong presence, the new firm will be known as Squire Sanders Hammonds. When the merger takes effect on 1 January, Squire Sanders chair James Maiwurm will become global chief executive officer and chair, while Hammonds managing partner Peter Crossley will become managing partner for Europe. A Hammonds spokeswoman said today that redundancies are not anticipated as the firms merge. ‘The merger is all about achieving and driving growth into the business,’ she said. The new firm will be structured as a Swiss verein and governed by a 13-person global board, elected by partners. Managing partners for the Americas and Asia-Pacific regions will be appointed. In a statement, the firms said that the combined practice ‘anticipates additional growth’ in key financial markets, including New York and London. The statement said that the new firm expects to add to its Paris office and expand its presence in Germany, and expand in emerging growth regions in Asia and Latin America. Crossley (pictured left with Maiwurm) said: ‘Clients currently working with lawyers from both legacy firms are enthusiastic about the combination’s expanded practice expertise, industry knowledge, regional strength and global reach. We are delighted to report that clients’ reactions reflect what we concluded after we began discussions with Squire Sanders. Simply put, we are better together.’ Maiwurm said: ‘The pace of the business world is accelerating. Clients expect their law firms to embrace change and seize opportunity even in a challenging business climate. We hear our clients and know they consider cost-effective global counsel the norm, not the exception. The combination of our firms is designed for the times and positioned for the future. We will continue to seek bold solutions for clients wherever their business takes them, and we will do this in a collaborative fashion that makes us both an inviting place to work and a great choice for clients.’ The merger of the firms marks the third major transatlantic tie-up since May, when City firm Lovells and US firm Hogan & Hartson merged to created Hogan Lovells. City firm Denton Wilde Sapte and US firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal merged in September to create SNR Denton. Squire Sanders has lawyers in 32 offices across 15 countries. Hammonds employs lawyers in 10 offices across six countries. Hammonds was founded in 1887 and Squire Sanders in 1890.last_img read more


Rule of law in the age of austerity

Posted On Sep 30 2020 by

first_imgToby Brown writes about the Access to Justice campaign concerning awareness of the recoverability of pro bono costs. This is a major advance in support of pro bono litigation. However, he failed to mention the biggest impediment to the initiation of much pro bono litigation, which is the threat of adverse costs. Many cases brought on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged may seek to establish new principles. As such they may fail to qualify for legal aid funding, since the outcome is speculative and they are also unable to satisfy the high threshold set for defining public-interest litigation for legal aid purposes. Protective costs orders are available but very difficult to obtain, and are only available after litigation starts. Those with no resources cannot take the risk of incurring any liability for costs. Sometimes government departments will agree not to seek adverse costs orders, but this is not guaranteed. I wonder how long this practice will last in the new age of austerity. The poor and disadvantaged are about to suffer a massive loss of existing rights of all kinds. Legal aid will no longer be available for challenges to most aspects of this new regime. Pro bono litigation may be all that is left to ensure that the rule of law is still applied to state action against those who cannot afford legal representation. A concerted effort is required within the legal profession to ensure there is a safety net available, so that pro bono cases can be taken against the state without risk to impecunious claimants. Joanna Kennedy , chief executive, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, London SW1last_img read more


The ins and outs of obtaining information relating to debtors

Posted On Sep 30 2020 by

first_imgIt is a well-known scriptural principle that ‘unto every one that hath shall be given… but from him that hath not shall be taken away’. Extracting assets from the hath-nots, however, is not always easy, as the recent decision of the Court of Appeal in Broomleigh Housing Association Ltd v Okonkwo [2010] EWCA Civ 1113 illustrates. The best way to avoid bad debts is, of course, not to give credit to those whom you do not know. As the old Italian proverb has it, ‘trust is a fine thing, but suspicion is safer’. The canny tradesman insists on cash on delivery, or at least carries out credit checks before parting company with his stock. But when your client has placed trust in a person with whom you would not shake hands without ­counting your fingers afterwards, what should you do? Gather intelligenceFirst, gather intelligence. Your client or his fellow tradesmen may know something about the debtor. ‘His house looked expensive’ will lead you to adopt what is generally the most effective means of enforcement: an application for a charging order and, if need be, an order for sale. ‘He was driving a brand-new Mercedes’ will suggest a warrant of execution and a visit by the bailiff or High Court enforcement officer (to whom you can transfer a county court debt of at least £600) with a low-loader. A cheque drawn by the debtor will provide details of a bank account which, if in credit, can be made subject to a third-party debt order. Knowledge that the debtor is working will encourage an application to attach his earnings. But what if your client knows nothing about the debtor’s means? Enter Emeka Okonkwo, who was a tenant of the Broomleigh Housing Association. Possession ­proceedings were brought against him in which his landlord obtained judgment for costs. Knowing nothing about Okonkwo’s means, the landlord obtained an order for questioning. Such an order, obtained under Civil Procedure Rule 71, is a creditor’s last resort; one need only consider the progress of this case to see why. ‘Progress’ is the wrong word; even ‘drift’ would be too suggestive of advance. The case eddied for years. The landlord obtained judgment in April 2004. It sought the order for questioning in May 2005. The order, granted in June, required Okonkwo to attend court on a date in August. Orders for questioning must be served personally at least 14 days before the questioning is to take place. The creditor is generally directed to serve. If asked within seven days of service, he must also pay the debtor’s reasonable travelling expenses. Okonkwo’s landlord failed to serve the order. Six orders followed. Service was finally effected when, according to Okonkwo, one of his landlord’s housing officers ‘thrust a document towards him, which fell to the ground’. If this is what happened, it is as well that Okonkwo did finally make his way to court, in November 2007. Though a document may be served personally by leaving it in a person’s presence, he must be told what it is; had Okonkwo not attended, the judge might have concluded that, yet again, his order had not been served. The procedure now reached its second stage. The record of Okonkwo’s questioning, conducted by a court officer, reads: ‘He attended, but stated he needed more time before he could fill in the form.’ His Honour Judge Ellis, who appears to have been told only that Okonkwo had refused to answer questions, committed him to prison for seven days, suspending the sentence, in accordance with Civil Procedure Rule 71.8, on condition that Okonkwo returned to court on another occasion. Personal service again proving difficult, three more such orders followed until Okonkwo returned to court and answered the officer’s questions on 5 May 2009, a little more than five years after the judgment had been obtained. At this point, something untoward happened; Okonkwo appealed against the suspended sentence which his attendance at court had already discharged. He needed no permission; an appeal against committal lies as of right. The explanation for this extraordinary step is that he was a law student: Lords Justices Moore-Bick and Wilson record, with perhaps a hint of scepticism, that Okonkwo, ‘who wishes to pursue a career in the law, is said to be concerned that to have had committal orders made against him might harm his prospects’. Okonkwo may also have had in mind that trying out his skills before the Court of Appeal and appearing in a law report might assist him in his chosen career. The sentiments of his landlord are not recorded. No doubt, the association felt it had better things to do than spend money opposing the appeal. Which succeeded. The reason why lies less in its merits than in the procedure followed by the court below. When first making a suspended committal order, the judge used a standard form ‘which requires little more than ticking boxes and entering a figure for the period of imprisonment’. But ticking a box was, their lordships concluded, not enough: before exercising his discretion, the judge should have heard Okonkwo, considered all the evidence, satisfied himself beyond reasonable doubt that Okonkwo was intentionally in contempt of court, weighed the alternatives, and given reasons for deciding to commit. That suspended orders for committal rarely resulted in imprisonment was irrelevant: ‘It is undesirable for the court to approach the making of severe orders with any degree of promiscuity just because it has an expectation, however well justified, that they are unlikely to need to be enforced’ [at para 17]. Never mind the avalanche of paper on his desk, let the judge not promiscuously commit! He must read the file, pause before judgment and record his reasons. That reasons should be given accords, of course, with article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950, which prevents unlawful detention and requires that a comprehensible explanation for his detention be given to a detainee. It also accords with a much older principle: in the far background to the Court of Appeal’s judgment one can surely descry those troublesome nobles, insisting, in 1215, that ‘no free man shall be seized or imprisoned… except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land’ and still, more than seven centuries later, stoutly defending every subject against imprisonment without just cause. District Judge Adam Taylor sits at Horsham County Courtlast_img read more