Judges – On The Whole, Rudeness Is The Remarkable Exception These Days.

Judges – On The Whole, Rudeness Is The Remarkable Exception These Days.

In many of my Blogs I have provided links to the transcriptions of various Judgments of the Court.

For example:- The judgment of The Honourable Mr Justice Fraser, in my most recent Blog, about the terrors of working for the Post Office, was a document of the length of a novel and it was a model of clarity.

Again, in the case where the liability of Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC to its employees in respect of a malicious act of a computer hacker was considered (currently awaiting a final appeal decision) the words of The Honourable Mr Justice Langstaff are thoughtful and clear and where the Judge felt that there was room for doubt he was fair to say so and to give leave – without being asked to – for an appeal. -Link here

And it is true that in the vast majority of cases in the higher courts, this is the standard.

Lower down the legal system, sometimes this is not the case.

Even so, rude and hostile judges are still so rare that examples tend to make the news.

There was one such case in 2019 which made the local press -Link here- and professional press headlines -link here-

This was the case of a court being asked to decide about the care and housing of a young child – a baby girl of one year old. The case was heard over five days and it’s not surprising that most of the witnesses, experts and family members, and judge alike, had strong feelings and a deep emotional investment in arriving at the right decision.

The decision to be reached was in essence a choice between foster placement leading to an adoption plan for the baby, or placement with grandparents.

The main problem with the second choice was the existence of a brother of the baby, a youth of 14 whose medical and behavioural problems meant that his presence in the same household as a one year old child would be a “threat to her safety and wellbeing”.

And whilst the boy was in residential care when the hearing was taking place, he was the subject of a settled “care plan” which included returning to live with those grandparents shortly.

The eventual decision of the Judge, District Judge Mian, was that the baby could not safely live with the grandparents and this fourteen year old, and so a placement was ordered for the baby girl as a preliminary to adoption.

On appeal, the Appeal Court agreed that, on the evidence, the decision of the lower Court – of DJ Mian – was actually cogent and well-reasoned. ”It would be difficult to criticise the Judge’s approach to the discretionary elements of the case.”

So what’s the problem?

As a reading of the press reports, and of the Appeal Court Judgment shows, the problem was not that Justice was not done. The problem was that justice was not seen to be done.

Have you ever experienced a situation where a meeting gets out of hand? Where you are simply trying to put across your point of view in a reasonable way. And everyone else is being obstructive and refusing to let you speak, or refusing to give any weight to your views. And the emotion ratchets upwards and everyone gets crosser and crosser and you can’t understand why no-one else in the room can see that you are the only person talking sense? According to you, of course.

(Brexit anyone?).

The hearing fell apart. Because the grandparents who represented their own views, and the social workers who spoke for the interests of the baby girl, clearly did not believe that the brother ever would come to live with the grandparents.

So they were discounting that possibility, and all of their submissions to the Judge were that the best place for the baby was with the grandparents because the perceived risk to the child if brother came to live there too was not an actual problem. Because he NEVER WOULD return. May I call that “Position A”.
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But the Judge took the view that her hands were tied, because a Court had approved a care plan for the brother which was in force, which in her eyes meant that the case had to be decided on the basis that he CERTAINLY MUST return. My label, “Position B”.

And so the Judge was effectively trying to forbid any witnesses’ submissions on the basis of Position A. But the witnesses considered Position B preposterous and found themselves unable to accept it even as a hypothesis.

So round and round they all went, day after day, like teddy-bears in the nursery rhyme.

Which made the Judge crosser and crosser. Swearing and shouting. Storming Out of the Courtroom, unable to speak because she was shaking with rage. Turning her back on the Court. Scornfully mimicking the advocates and witnesses. Oh dear.

The fact that the Appeal Court could find no fault with her eventual written judgment didn’t make it all right. As they told her, you simply cannot run a Court hearing like that.

And of course, and wouldn’t you know it, by the time the Appeal Court heard the case, the 14 year old had confirmed his refusal to leave residential care to live with the grandparents and his own case had been reconsidered and he will now live until adult in a suitable residential placement away from his family.

Here is the Appeal Judgement transcript – Link Here –

So as the Appeal Court said, at paragraph 28, it is easy, “when you have hindsight and the irony of the situation is not lost” – Precisely what the Judge was being urged to consider and had refused time and time again to consider, “has come to pass.”

Very sad for all concerned. This is not an incompetent or usually rude Judge. But things went badly wrong.

If we are actually looking for rude Judges, the contemporary prize seems to go to the now retired His Honour Robert Stephen Dodds.

The Court Case Judgement which led the webzine Legal Cheek to dub him “Britain’s Rudest Judge is here -Link Here- . Once again, the Appeal court does not find his Judgment necessarily wrong in relation to the facts and justice of the case. But the manner of it certainly was.

But do you not feel cheered to read of a Judge who can tell the open Court “Can I tell you how bitterly resentful I am at how much of my Saturday I spent reading this codswallop”?

I hope that His Honour lives long to enjoy many codswallop-free Saturdays in his retirement.

At least there is no Judge practicing in the English Courts now who is in the terrifying league of the late Hanging Judge Jeffreys. His reputation has survived over some 350 years.

An extract from a learned paper – link here-

“There was a fiendish exultation in the way in which he pronounced sentence on offenders. Their weeping and imploring seemed to titillate him voluptuously; and he loved to scare them into fits by dilating with luxuriant amplification on all the details of what they were to suffer.”

Crikey.

Here’s the song – Peter Tosh reminds us that we may one day meet a Higher Judge. –Link Here –

As ever, if you require our services or if you have any queries on any of the services that we offer then please so not hesitate to email us louise@atkinsonnotary.com and notary@atkinsonnotary.com.
Or alternatively please telephone on 0113 8160116 or 07715608747. Please also visit our website http://www.atkinsonnotary.com

Computer Says NO. Go To Gaol. Just Another Day At The Post Office.

Computer Says NO. Go To Jail. Just Another Day At The Post Office.

Am I out of step with most News reporting agencies in feeling that one of the most astonishing Court cases in recent years was largely unreported as it trundled along over the past decade? Or maybe I just missed it.

What have you seen in the media before this year about the saga of the Post Office and its IT system called “Horizon”? Ring any bells?

In around 2000 this system written by the IT Company Fujitsu began to be rolled into use in Post Office branches, that is, into the sort of Post Office which is based inside a privately owned shop, perhaps a newsagency or cafe.

Therefore, the system was used by subpostmasters who were really just shopkeepers. And as shopkeepers, they did not network with each other or have any Union or trade body looking after them. Each of them was separate, and on their own.

The new Horizon IT system began to cause them problems. On reporting to the Post Office, each was told that no-one else had experienced any problems, and they must be doing things wrongly.

So in 2005 on her first day of training in her new post office (which she had paid £250,000.00 to buy) Mrs Seema Misra watched as the Post Office trainers ran the system for her. At the end of the day, the system showed a £150.00 shortfall which was dismissed by the trainers as just one of those things. “It’s never penny accurate”.

Every day following, the system showed a shortfall of £200.00 or so. It is the contractual responsibility of subpostmasters to make good all shortfalls from their own money. Mrs Misra got no help from the Post Office. She got threats.

In January 2008, pregnant, she was sent to jail. Say that again? Sent to Jail. Pregnant.

Found guilty of theft of £74,000.00 and false accounting. Here is -a link- to a case commentary which concludes with the timetable to the Crown Court Hearing. If you click on the links in the timetable you can read the transcript of the court proceedings on each day.

So far as false accounting is concerned, she admitted that. Her reasoning as she explained was that, whilst the shortfall apparent in the accounts was the result of computer rogue errors and were not her fault, they would result in her being required to “repay” tens of thousands of pounds if she did not try to disguise them in some way.

She did however plead “not guilty” to the charge of theft, and that is what her trial was about.

I would also point out a difference between the evidence given to the jury in her trial, and the evidence which is usually given to a jury in an “embezzlement” trial.

That is, there seems to be no prosecution evidence or allegation of what Mrs Misra is supposed to have done with the £74,000.00 she is accused of having stolen – where she had put it, or spent it.

Usually when a person is charged with embezzlement, the money is traced. Often that in itself is the best evidence of the thefts.

Indeed it is usually by examination of the accused person’s bank account that the existence of large amounts of unexplained money gives rise to, or justifies, suspicions. You know the sort of thing – the headlines say “Trusted employee spent stolen millions on girls, drink and fast cars” (c.f. George Best – “the rest I just wasted”. Sorry).

This sort of thing – link- thief buys jewellery and gambles and sends the kids to private school and goes on holidays and buys a new car or –link- where the somewhat fabulously named US Attorney Mr Anthony Eugene Cheatham “used the money to pay his bills, write personal checks to himself and family members—and make payments to other individuals from whom he had previously taken money”.

As an aside, – Would you go to a lawyer called Mr Cheatham? He must be quite charming to leap that hurdle.

But – No such money was traced in this case. No allegations were made: – of living beyond her means, of nice holidays new cars or works of art. Do you think, – Because, there never was £74,000.00 gone missing? Durr.

All she knew was that she was on her own, she had no knowledge that this wasn’t happening only to her. But the Post Office did. There were lots of others.

Here is -a link-  to the Telegraph article highlighting her case and other cases.

I find it hard to imagine what it must feel like. To invest £200,000.00 of my own money (£67,000.00 on a mortgage) into a business where the computer says each day I owe £200 and each day and each day. Would I sleep? Then to be arrested, then sent to jail.

Not just her though :-

Mr Thomas. Age 72. Jailed.

Per Wikipedia, Ms Jo Hamilton was faced with having to repay the non-existent sum of £36,000.00 and because she couldn’t afford it and hadn’t had the money she tried to “falsify” the already false deficit. She pleaded guilty to fourteen charges of false accounting and re-mortgaged her house to repay money which never existed.

Rubina Nami jailed 12 months. Lost her house. Slept in a van upon release.

Private Eye states one person has committed suicide.

In 2011 this state of affairs was reported upon in Private Eye magazine. The journalist runs a Blog and is far more explanatory than I could be – he has been writing about the case for years here is – a link-.

In spite of the fact that the Post Office had been instrumental in the jailing of its subpostmasters for years, it seems that only in 2015 did the Chief Executive Paula Vennells – (who earned five or so millions of pounds whilst in post and who has not been sent to jail) – instruct her employees to enquire of Fujitsu whether the system was truly secure or whether external logins to its Horizon System were possible.

Its Court pleadings say ”neither Post Office nor Fujitsu has the ability to log on remotely to a horizon terminal so as to conduct transactions”

Not True.

It has become clear that the Post office has for years been desperate to defend the indefensible. Faced with real and obvious evidence to the contrary its position appears to have been – “Fujitsu say there’s nowt wrong with what we bought. So you must all be liars and jail’s the place for you – off you go.” I paraphrase.

Presumably because a billion pounds or so has been spent upon this system.

Possibly because it would feared that losing a court case would eventually result in the privatisation of the Post Office.

So for over one decade if not two decades it has been telling lies or allowing Fujitsu to do so without proper consideration of the facts and exhibiting, in the words of The Honourable Mr Justice Fraser “Institutional Obstinacy” amounting to repeated pig headed assertions that their system “cannot be to blame” and simply failing to accept all or any factual accounts by all witnesses to the contrary.

Because there is now a reported case. In fact the Post Office has agreed to pay compensation/settlement money of £58 million or so to – how many do you think? The number is 550 subpostmasters.

Five hundred and fifty poor sods. Five hundred and fifty lives disrupted for year after year.

The written judgment is a very good read. –Link Here- You can perhaps tell whether the Judge is furious. The levels of politeness and overt fairness have gone into overdrive. He is scrupulous as can be and his judgment runs to 1030 paragraphs over 313 pages.

After delivery of it he is reported to have said

“Based on the knowledge that I have gained both from conducting the trial and writing the Horizon Issues judgment, I have very grave concerns regarding the veracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts in previous proceedings about the known existence of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system. These previous proceedings include the High Court in at least one civil case brought by the Post Office against a sub- postmaster and the Crown Court in a greater number of criminal cases, also brought by the Post Office against sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses.

“After very careful consideration, I have therefore decided, in the interests of justice, to send the papers in the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Max Hill QC, so he may consider whether the matter to which I have referred should be the subject of any prosecution.

“It will be entirely a matter for the DPP what, if anything, he does in respect of this referral…I wish to make it clear that the specific subject to which I will drawing the specific attention of the DPP relates to the evidence on previous occasions of Fujitsu employees.”

There was a time when the person in charge of a monumental balls-up requiring a negotiated settlement of £58m. would resign. Never mind personal responsibility or culpability even if there were none. As a matter of honour.

Wikipedia tells me Paula Anne Vennells, CBE, FRSA is “a British businesswoman and Anglican priest. She was Chief Executive officer of the Post Office Limited from 2012 to 2019 before assuming the chair of Imperial College Healthcare Trust, one of the largest NHS hospital groups”.

Yes, she’s running hospitals now.

By the way, and not before time, it would appear that the Horizon system is now working properly. So that’s all fine.

Here is a suitable song to cheer us all up – link –

As ever, if you require our services or if you have any queries on any of the services that we offer then please so not hesitate to email us louise@atkinsonnotary.com and notary@atkinsonnotary.com.

Or alternatively please telephone on 0113 8160116 or 07715608747. Please also visit our website http://www.atkinsonnotary.com

 

Apostilles And So-On – Louise Morley Explains

Legalisation guide – what is Legalisation, do I need to legalise my documents?

We see many clients who are told by their lawyers abroad that they require “legalisation of their documents” but are not entirely sure what “legalisation” means.

In a nutshell –

“In international law, legalisation is the process of authenticating or certifying a document so a foreign country’s legal system will recognize it as with full legal effect”

We usually get requested to “obtain Apostilles on my documents” – depending on what your document is depends on the process that will need to be carried out.

For example, if you have a Degree Certificate and a Basic DBS Certificate and a TEFL certificate (these are the usual certificates we get asked to legalise for use in PR CHINA) – then we are not able to submit them directly to the Foreign Office for Apostilles.  We first of all have to Notarise the certificates as genuine then we can submit the certificates to the foreign office for the first part of the legalisation, obtaining Apostille stamps (Apostille stamps are issued by the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office and confirms that a signatory on a document is genuine i.e that of a Notary).  Once the Apostilles have been obtained documents for use in PR CHINA also have to be submitted to the Chinese Embassy for their stamps.

If you have a General Records Office certificate i.e Birth, Death or Marriage Certificate then these certificates already bear signatures/stamps/seals of a public official and theoretically there is no requirement by us to notarise the certificates as the Foreign Office will apostille the certificates and confirm that the signature, stamp or seal is that of a Public official.

Depending on which country your documents are to be used in legalisation requirements will vary.

If you are unsure, as to how to legalise your document(s) then get in touch – we can assist – we can advise as to the usual requirements for the country you intend to produce your document(s) in.

If you are not sure whether notarisation is required to enable an Apostille and/or embassy stamp to be obtained, again get in touch – I can assist.

Currently the Foreign Office are taking around 5 working days to Apostille documents and get them back to our office.  If the matter is more urgent than we do offer an expedited service whereby we can obtain an apostille and have it back in our office in 48 hours.

Below is a link to image of what an Apostille looks like:

Apostille Image

Please do get in touch with us to discuss any aspect of this Blog or to chat with us if you think we can assist you in any way at all.

As ever, if you require our services or if you have any queries on any of the services that we offer then please so not hesitate to email us louise@atkinsonnotary.com  and notary@atkinsonnotary.com.

Or alternatively please telephone on 0113 8160116 or 07715608747.  Please also visit our website http://www.atkinsonnotary.com