MONEY FOR NOTHING AND THE CHEQUES FOR FREE

Are you as irritated as I am at the number of spam emails arriving in my inbox telling me that if I’ve been injured in the recent past, I may be entitled to compensation, and to get in touch without delay?

It’s all part and parcel of the compensation culture spreading like a rash and at an alarming rate. As evidence of such nonsense, there’s a commercial on independent television, possibly run by the same spammers, and introduced by a feisty woman posing as a legal expert, telling me much the same. In the States they are known as “ambulance chasers,” tracking down accident victims and throwing business cards at them like confetti at a wedding.

The commercial runs two cameo videos of accident ‘victims,’ who each received the princely sum of £7,500 by way of compensation, stretching credibility to breaking point. The first shows some twerp up a ladder, the ladder suddenly slides back in best Buster Keaton fashion, dumping him unceremoniously on the ground, and the second, some old fart who should have surrendered his licence years ago, tooling along behind the wheel of his car with his thoughts on anything and everything except the road ahead, colliding with another car. In both cases, it looks, even to the untutored eye, that there was no basis, in fact or in law, for any compensation, let alone £7,500.

My experience in personal injury cases tells me that insurers are far too ready to cave in to wholly unmeritorious claims, and if I were a loss adjustor watching those videos, I would burst out laughing, not just at the stupidity of the claimants, but also at their temerity in bringing their claims in the first place.

The insurers blame the high cost of litigation as one of the reasons for caving in so readily, and they may have a point, but an unmeritorious claim will be dismissed, together with their reasonable costs, so there are times when it’s worth standing up to be counted. The courts could, and should, do more to list these claims for trial more promptly, instead of the inordinate delays under the present regime. I had a case the other day where the accident happened over three years ago, and with the passage of time, memories, especially for detail, inevitably fade.

Caving in simply encourages lawyers posing as ambulance chasers to spam emails and front television commercials, for the sole purpose of hounding these timid insurers into paying out and, to add insult to injury, if you’ll forgive the pun, paying their costs as well.

And the corollary to this spineless approach is higher premiums for us, the insured, and in extreme cases, no insurance at all. It’s time for a more robust attitude and a large dose of common sense.

CHILD’S PLAY

The papers and media are full, once again, of more senseless fatal stabbings on the streets, and sadly, hardly a day goes by without more of the same. I listened with resignation to interviews with teenagers who freely admit to going out armed with knives for self protection, on the spurious basis that when it comes to a confrontation, those who confront them will also be armed with knives. And so we go round and round in a vicious cycle of mindless violence. Quite why these kids are ‘out’ in the first place escapes me completely. It may have something to do with their mindless and vacuous lives and ‘attitude,’ but these fatal stabbings are reaching epidemic proportions, and short of a lot of political hand wringing and clicking of teeth, nobody seems able or willing to address this malaise.

Boris Johnson, the new Mayor of London, has promised to put more bobbies on the beat, which, if this is not just empty rhetoric, is a significant step in the right direction. Come the New Jerusalem, and were I to become the Beloved Leader, I would have a pair of bobbies on every street corner, with instructions to stop and search everybody with ‘attitude.’ As I wrote in an earlier article [All aboard the Bandwagon], it’s not the deterrence of a five year sentence of detention or imprisonment that will stop those with ‘attitude’ from carrying knives, it’s the fear of being caught. And stopping and searching at random has another obvious benefit. Once word gets out on the street, even mindless and vacuous morons will think twice before ‘tooling up.’

But even as I write, my dream of a New Jerusalem has been shattered by some Johnnie Come Lately popping out of the woodwork, in no lesser a personage than the Children’s Commissioner! Now hands up all those who even knew of his existence, let alone his name and his function. I thought so! So let me enlighten you, having seen and heard him for all of twelve seconds on the news the other evening. I think his first name is ‘Al,’ he’s a knight of the realm, and aren’t they all, and I suspect he earns a six figure salary. And that’s it, that’s all I can tell you about good old ‘Al.’ Anyway, to cut a long story short, ‘Al’ had the brass neck to suggest that random stop and search measures might inflame the situation rather than resolve it. Give me strength! And before you know it, some “special interests” forum will complain to the High Court that this is in breach of human rights legislation, and on present form, there’s an odds on chance their lordships will agree.

So I have two suggestions of my own. Firstly, abolish the Human Rights Act. On any view, it’s a complete shambles and unworkable. Secondly, abolish the Children’s Commissioner, who’s no good to man or boy, save the taxpayer a small fortune and let’s get back to the good old days when we set our own domestic agenda, when the police were allowed to police without constant interference, and when judges were allowed to run their own courts without Strasbourg telling them what to say and do.

JUDGE NOT THAT YE BE NOT JUDGED

One thing can be said for sure about Cherie Booth-Blair’s memoirs – they haven’t lacked publicity! Like countless others, I’ve skim read the serialised snippets and the sound bites emanating from the press, together with dozens of unflattering reviews. I did much the same for John Prescott until he disclosed he was suffering from bulimia, at which I collapsed with laughter and read no more. As far as I was concerned, the adipose scribe from yesteryear lost all credibility. Still, as Oscar Wilde once famously quipped: “There’s only one thing worse than bad publicity, and that’s no publicity!”

Was it ever thus for the aspiring author! That said, as an aspiring author myself of Toby Potts in the Temple of Gloom, now available from Amazon worldwide, I envy BB her media exposure, and there are lessons to be learned. But I’m not plugging her book or mine. Instead, I address the question raised by at least two judges, namely BB’s fitness for high office, and in particular, her ambition to become a judge.

The argument against such an elevation follows a well trodden path. It’s not just BB’s tacky disclosures of shenanigans in the corridors of power, drunken lords a-leaping and high jinks on the top deck of the Number 274 bus, it’s more to do with her lack of judgment when it came to shady property deals and her choice of friends.

Let me make it clear that I have never knowingly met BB in either of her public persona, a disappointment felt keenly by her no doubt. But here lies her dilemma! Over the past ten years, she’s tried to run with the hare and the hounds, with varying degrees of success and failure. One minute she’s the wife of the Prime Minister, rubbing shoulders with the great and the good, and the next minute she’s Cherie Booth QC, advocate extraordinaire and aspiring judge. When she rises to her feet in court, I wonder how many judges and fellow advocates and clients say: “There’s Ms. Booth QC, the eminent barrister”, as opposed to those who say: “There’s Cherie Blair, the wife of the Prime Minister.”

In these days of equal opportunity, it may sound curmudgeonly to criticise her decision to continue in practice as a barrister once her husband had been appointed Prime Minister, but BB must have known that her decision carried with it a number of risks, and besides, her husband was not exactly the shrinking violet. She was under the media spotlight from the word GO, and anything and everything she said and did would be under intense scrutiny. In my opinion, if she took advice, she was ill advised to carry on, and must now live with the consequences.

As to BB’s fitness to sit permanently in the seat of judgment, I feel the jury are still out, and for good reason. Some minion from the Ministry of Justice will get around to it in the fullness of time, there’ll be the usual unctuous wringing of hands, forms to be completed and check boxes ticked, and then the interview. I went through all that many years ago, and sad to relate, I was turned down as being intemperate. What!! Me!! I thought that was an essential prerequisite, but apparently not. But enough of me, back to BB. The profession does itself no service by criticising from within, knowing such criticism would attract maximum publicity. It demeans her critics more than it demeans her. I was always taught never to publicly criticise my colleagues at the Bar or on the Bench, though there were times when I was sorely tempted. It’s something to do with glass houses.

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIPS

Wigs and gowns, those hardy perennials of the legal profession, are back in the news, with Lord Worth of Matravers, doesn’t that just trip off the tongue, modelling the latest creation from some fashion icon with only a passing acquaintance of the law, rather like some judges I know. The Good Lord’s outfit is likened to that of Darth Vadar, black from head to toe, with distinctive tabs clinging seductively to the neck, the colour of which determines the seniority and provenance of the wearer.

Inevitably, the ‘pro’ and ‘con’ camps seem to be equally divided, so let’s look at where we are now, before considering where we go from here.

In the Magistrates Courts, otherwise known as courts of inferior jurisdiction, and which include Family Proceedings Courts, robes are conspicuous by their absence, both by advocates and justices alike. The same applies in the County Court hearing Family matters, and it is increasingly becoming the norm not to robe in civil matters for committal proceedings.

That leaves grown up County Courts, Crown Courts and the courts of superior jurisdiction such as the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, soon to be replaced by the Supreme Court. In these courts, barristers still wear wig and gown, wing collar and bands, and the same applies to solicitor advocates, minus wig, to mark them down as interlopers and incompetents. Judges ‘robe up’ in various combinations of colours, and also wear the short bottomed wig. The full bottomed wig is reserved for ceremonial occasions and “theatre of the absurd” pictures in the press and media, to reassure Joe Public of the full majesty of the law, and God help those who transgress it.

The group of advocates clinging most tenaciously to the wig seem to be those practising the criminal law. The reasoning behind their tenacity is the belief that wig and gown give them a measure of anonymity, so that when they leave court, clutching their crust for the day, they are less likely to be accosted by a disgruntled defendant uttering that familiar refrain: “Who the f**k are you calling a f**king liar?” For my part, I am not persuaded, so I am firmly in the ‘no wig, no gown’ lobby.

But whatever the preferences of the profession, I feel that the proposed changes for the judiciary are not the answer. It’s simply tinkering at the margins, and change for change’s sake. I venture the opinion that most of the judiciary prefer to robe, and remain the way they are, and I agree. They need something to set them apart from we lesser mortals, and to give them gravitas. After all, they carry a grave and weighty responsibility, especially in the criminal courts when passing lengthy sentences of imprisonment, or even community penalties. Those on the receiving end need to have impressed on them the seriousness and solemnity of the occasion, and if the perception is that condign punishment is being meted out by Darth Vadar or Coco the Clown, the law is devalued and the poorer for it.

COMMUNITY RELATIONS GONE MAD

I am so depressed it’s almost impossible to put it into words! I am not referring to the credit crunch, falling house prices, the 10p tax band or manipulating and mendacious politicians trying to make me believe that a square is in fact a circle.

All this is depressing enough, but the last straw for me was the report that the West Midlands Police, yes that lot again, aided and abetted by the CPS, are making a formal apology in the High Court, even as I write, and paying substantial libel damages, to the producers of Undercover Mosque: a Dispatches investigation showing Islamic ‘preachers’ in this country calling for Jihad, together with the murder of non-believers and homosexuals, to name but a few.

And after the screening of the programme in January, what did these morons in the West Midlands police do about it? Instead of prosecuting these poisonous preachers, they began an investigation into the producers of the programme with the active connivance of the CPS, claiming that they, the producers, were guilty of selective editing and distortion, as well as undermining community relations! It simply beggars belief!

To make matters worse, these morons referred the programme to Ofcom, the media watchdog, which rejected the complaint out of hand, and described the programme as “accurately representing the material it had gathered and dealing with the subject matter responsibly and in context.”

When, oh when, oh when, will these morons wake up to what is going on around us and do what they are paid to do, namely to investigate, charge and prosecute these perpetrators of hate and violence?

To rub salt into the wound, and with the CPS declining to comment, nothing new there, these substantial damages are being paid by us, the taxpayers, and as night follows day, the denizens of the West Midlands will be surcharged for this shortfall in police funding when they get their next council tax demands.

But the final straw, for me at least, is the near certainty that these morons will do nothing to investigate, charge and prosecute these perpetrators of hate and violence in our midst, for fear of undermining community relations. Now where did I put my passport?