LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

April 27th, 2016

We are living longer, and more and more of us are making provision for a comfortable old age.  With this in mind, mobile home parks are becoming increasingly popular as retirement homes, and they have much to offer.  Many are in idyllic areas where planning consent is easier to obtain, and the quality of mobile homes available to purchase is a revelation. They range from one to four beds, lavishly furnished, all mod cons, and there is scope on their respective pitches for gardens and outdoor decorations.  They also come with their own garages or hard standing areas.

As these parks are designed for the retired, there are a number of conditions associated with ownership that emphasise the need for quiet enjoyment.  There is usually a minimum age qualification, for the over fifty fives, there are limits on children living permanently on the park, dogs are controlled and vehicles other than private cars are usually banned.  There is also invariably a prohibition on running a business from the park.

But life in the slow lane is a two way track where there needs to be room for both the residents and the owners.  Every now and again, there is friction between the two which can sour the atmosphere unless it is addressed without delay. I have been representing park owners for the best part of ten years, and I believe I have seen it all.  I also like to believe that problems, when they arise, can and should be addressed with the minimum of rancour, so that both parties understand the issues and try and resolve them before they get out of hand.

I do not pretend that park owners are beyond reproach, and there are times when they are clearly in the wrong.  But exactly the same applies to the residents, usually confined to a handful, who can be difficult, uncooperative and obstructive.

The primary legislation is enshrined in the Mobile Homes Act 1983, and subsequently amended when constituency MPs, looking to the next General Election, get overexercised on behalf of the residents of these parks, viewing them as captive votes.  Tinkering with the legislation, it finishes up as neither fish nor fowl, and it is easily forgotten that park owners are running a business and not a charitable old people’s home park.

The two major changes over the recent past have been the advent of the Residents’ Association where problems, real and imagined, are picked over and ventilated ad nauseam, and the right of owners to sell their mobile homes sometimes to purchasers who have no real concept of park living, and who, once on the park, cause nothing but difficulties for one and all.

For the most part these mobile home parks work well to the benefit of all, but all it takes is one bad apple to spoil the barrel.

David Osborne is a public  access barrister and an expert on Home Park Law.  He can be instructed direct without the need to go through a solicitor first.

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THE LAYMAN’S LAMENT

April 27th, 2016

Gary Lineker.  You may remember him, a competent English footballer from yesteryear who went on to become a television presenter and pundit and who has spent the last three years trying to grow a beard.  No?  Well never mind.  He has just put himself and his second wife through a divorce and complains about greedy lawyers inflating their fees and engendering hate between the parties.

As  a lawyer, I have to declare an interest.  This is not the first time I have heard complaints about lawyers’ fees, and let’s face it, nobody likes paying legal fees.  Like lawyers, they are a necessary evil.  The problem about Gary’s complaint is that it is borne of ignorance about the system.  It’s not just about lawyers, it’s about going to court when the parties cannot or will not agree, and once that is inevitable, the good lawyer will ensure that his client’s case is put as strongly and as forcefully as possible.  This needs preparation and it needs proof.  You don’t simply turn up and proclaim that the sun shines out of your client’s posterior and he, or she, is as pure as the driven snow. That’s not how it works, and if it did, the law would be an ass.

Gary has been down this road once before, so he should know the routine and the pitfalls.  Let me assure him that lawyers are only involved where the parties cannot agree and where mediation has failed.  It is amazing how petty divorce proceedings can become.  When love flies out the window, so does reason.  I remember many years ago when all the ducks were in a row and we were ready to sign off and go home, the parties would not and could not agree on who should have the mechanical Father Christmas who, when wound up, said: “Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas, grow up and get a life!” The judge was asked to exercise the judgment of Solomon, so he gave Santa to the wife, gave £12.99 to his usher who went out and returned with a brand new Father Christmas which he gave to the husband.

Lineker’s divorce may have gone smoothly without the need to consult a lawyer, but to suggest that divorcing couples would be better served without a lawyer is wrong and naive.  If a lawyer overcharges on his fees, they can be appealed and separately assessed by the court.  If they are deemed excessive, they will be reduced.  In Lineker’s case, it’s the same old mantra that if you don’t like the message, you shoot the messenger.

As a football pundit, he should know that it is sometimes better to keep his mouth shut and appear foolish than to open it and remove all doubt.  Leave the law to lawyers Gary, and stick to what you know.

David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the Law.  His latest, entitled Order in Court, is now available in all reputable bookstores and on Amazon.

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BREXIT OR BUST

April 26th, 2016

It’s all turning very nasty and very petty.  I refer of course to the ongoing slanging match between the opposing factions in the forthcoming referendum on Europe.  Do we remain or do we leave?  Speaking for myself, I have battle fatigue already, and there are eight more weeks of this backbiting, and slanging.

It’s difficult to know who started this blame game, but I suspect David Cameron must bear the greater responsibility.  I won’t retread old ground, but I agree with Gordon Brown, you remember him, a former Prime Minister?  No?  Well never mind.  He said something worth repeating, which is ground breaking in itself. He was of the opinion that the Remain camp were talking down to us, not trying to persuade us with reasoned argument, but accusing us of being morons if we didn’t agree with them, and we don’t like it.

Before we joined the European Economic Community as it was then called under the leadership of Ted Heath, you remember him of course.  No? Well never mind. It was essentially a trading bloc, and it seemed to work well enough. It was created almost exclusively to humour French farmers, but that’s another story. Now it calls itself the European Union, a misnomer if ever there was, as there is very little agreement on even the most basic things.

Where the European Union grates with many people, and I count myself as one, is that it seeks to interfere with every aspect of our daily lives where it simply isn’t necessary, and in so doing, it makes itself look ridiculous.

I am astonished at the absurdity of the Remain camp that if we leave the EU, the world will stop turning.  Before the EU, or the EEC, or way back in the mists of time, the Common Market, the United Kingdom was a great trading nation, and we were managing pretty well outside the Union.  We were the third biggest economy, now we are the fifth, and we traded globally.  We are also the third biggest net contributor to the EU budget after Germany and France, so imagine if you will what will happen to all those other countries who are net recipients of our largesse if we decide to leave.  All those snouts in the trough will have to look elsewhere, and I doubt if the electors of Germany and France will be at all keen to add to the pot.  So Boris Johnson may be right – on the day after we vote to leave, the other member states will be queuing up to beg us to stay, and we can then enter into meaningful discussions beyond their national self interest.

I have already made my position clear about the European Courts, pure pantomime and better abolished altogether, at least as far as we are concerned.

Will the debate improve in quality in the remaining eight weeks?  I doubt it if Barack Obama’s intervention is anything to go by.  OK, he was put up to it by Cameron, and Cameron should have known better.  It’s all about judgment, and Cameron lacked it. I certainly don’t condone remarks about a lame duck half caste Kenyan President, unhelpful as well as gratuitously offensive, but Obama displayed a political naivety that sadly has been the hallmark of his administration. He should have politely but firmly told Cameron that it is our decision, not his, and left it at that.

I suspect there is more of the same to come, but a word to the wise in both camps.  Don’t treat us like idiots, or we’ll treat you the same.

David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the Law.  His latest, entitled Order in Court, is now available in all reputable bookstores and on Amazon.

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THE POLITICS OF ENVY

April 18th, 2016

And so it goes on!  First we had the revelations about Mossack Fonseca, as dodgy a name as you’ll ever encounter, and some insider giving details of thousands of tax haven accounts in Panama, the original banana republic.  As grubby journalists trawled through them, ready to dish the dirt, up popped a few familiar names, one of which was David Cameron’s father Ian.  By all accounts he was a hard working and successful businessman who took advantage of perfectly legal loopholes to minimise his tax liabilities for the benefit of himself and his family.  Some, such as George Osborne, might call that morally repugnant.  I call George Osborne morally self-righteous, and he should take care when descending his soap box in case he slips on a banana skin.

The problem confronting David Cameron was not that his father went offshore to Panama, but that Cameron was economical with the truth, and he didn’t have the balls to brazen it out.  As he said when first confronted, his tax affairs were a private matter and not for public consumption, and most of us agreed.  However, he changed tack, not for the first time as Prime Minister, and in a rather snivelling fashion, grudgingly admitted sharing in his father’s offshore wealth, as if this were a  mortal sin.  And he was not alone.

I find the morally repugnant notion bordering on the farcical. Show me anybody with wealth who instructs his accountant not to save him any tax whatsoever, and I’ll show you either a complete idiot or a liar.  Accountants  make a good living finding perfectly legal tax loopholes, and if my accountant told me I could save a considerable sum on tax avoidance, but he did not recommend it as it was morally repugnant, I’d laugh in his face before giving him the elbow.

As if this were not enough, the spotlight has shifted away from Cameron, much to his relief, and onto Tony Blair.  You will remember him as probably the most popular Conservative Prime Minister after the blessed St. Margaret, and yet he too is being pilloried in the Media.  And the reason?  He has made a shed load of money, all perfectly legitimate since leaving office, and he too, another of George Osborne’s morally repugnant tax dodgers, has found ways of reducing his tax liabilities.  He is pilloried for allegedly approaching the Director of HM Revenue & Customs to ensure that his tax affairs are in order, an allegation he denies, but if I had to make a list of those I would least wish to meet in any circumstances, the Director would be top of it!

It’s the politics of envy, and sadly as a nation we have elevated it to an art form.  I don’t know where or when it started, when having shed loads of money was to be deplored.  It’s the “if I can’t have it, nobody else should have it” syndrome. Dog in the manger and all that.  Talking of Tony Blair, you may remember John Prescott, no, neither do I, but at the height of his blustering prowess, he was giving forth on the benefits of comprehensive education.  We listened attentively, because nobody else could find any, but Prescott, as ever in simplistic terms, told his enthralled listeners that as he failed his 11+ exam to his local grammar school, thus denying him entrance, that was as good a reason for abolishing them as any.  If he couldn’t go to grammar school, then nobody should go.

Enough of all this morally repugnant claptrap! If this government is serious about it, then change the law.  They won’t of course, as there are too many vested interests in the Commons for such legislation to stand a prayer.  It’s tantamount to turkeys voting for Christmas.

It was not so long ago when George Osborne was defending his decision to reduce the top rate of tax by claiming that it generated wealth of its own motion. There is an alarming lack of consistency in this debate.  Time to call it a day.

David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the Law.  His latest, entitled Order in Court, is now available in reputable bookstores and on Amazon.

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THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

April 14th, 2016

I dipped into the BBC television drama entitled the Night Watchman which ended recently. I remember vividly Rembrandt’s stunning painting of the Night Watchman, but I was unaware of Le Carré’s input.  Plagiarism perhaps? Apparently the BBC drama is adapted from a novel by him.  Whether that commends it or not is a question of debate.  I note that Le Carré’s novel is entitled The Night Manager, so the plot thickens, and I may have missed a trick.

I had a brief flirtation with Le Carré’s books some years ago, when Tinker Tailor hit the bookshelves, and I thought it an excellent read.  I then tried The Little Drummer Girl, and the first twelve pages, as far as I ventured, were a disappointment.  I suspect it was written at a time when Le Carré’s star was in the ascendant, and he could do no wrong.  When I am reading that sort of a book, I like a beginning, a middle and an end, in that order.  Not much to ask, but convoluted plots seem to be the literary equivalent of belles lettres, and we all know where they can take us.

If the producers of The Night Watchman followed Le Carré’s book as it was written, it was another disappointment, despite the critical acclaim from many quarters.  Matt Rudd and I are not alone in questioning the casting of the Night Watchman, whoever he was, and the same goes for Hugh Laurie the comedic actor. The Night Watchman was clearly promoted above his station, one minute behind the reception desk in a very gloomy hotel run by an overweight gel of indeterminate years, and the next working undercover as Laurie’s sidekick in setting up one of the biggest arms sales known to man, and undercover he should have remained.  Apparently this guy is being touted as the next James Bond when Whatsisname retires, but if that’s so, then bring back George Lazenby. Frankly, he didn’t look as if he could fight his way out of a paper bag.

Then there was Laurie.  According to the plot, he was supposed to be Mr. Evil, running an arms empire from the comfort of an enormous pile in Mallorca.  In reality, he looked like everybody’s favourite uncle, warm and cuddly and jolly.

The final absurdity in the casting, or perhaps in the location, was the denouement in Cairo.  This is where the Night Watchman, who has been given the keys to the Kingdom, is supposed to step up to the plate and start swinging.  Not so, as he betrays Laurie and his confederates, who in turn are arrested by the Egyptian police. Laurie is seen expressing his dismay, but I am here to tell him that a well greased palm achieves almost instant results, as the Egyptian security services are about as corrupt as you can get.  Just ask the parents of Guilio Regeni, the Italian student recently tortured and beaten to death in Cairo.

Good try BBC, but disappointing nonetheless.

David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the Law.  His latest, entitled Order in Court, is now available in all reputable bookstores and on Amazon.

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