24.1.07

Day 79 (week 17): Grumpy

Understandably the Boss has been out of Chambers this week so far. Today this left me to trundle off to yet another County Court which I shall not name so as not to identify the Judge about whom I shall now comment. Let’s call him Grumpy. The hearing was a contractual dispute worth about £20,000 and I was following a member of Chambers of five year’s call. All pretty clear really. Whether the building work on a property was done to standard or not. Couple of experts and two lay witnesses on either side. No technical points. A straight fight on the facts.

Or so you might think. From the start it seemed pretty clear that the District Judge didn’t want to hear the case. He started by telling the parties that around ten years ago he had used the particular building firm (which has branches in eight towns) for building a garden wall. He mentioned this to suggest that he had a conflict of interest and “perhaps both parties might think it best if another judge heard the case.” Both counsel went outside. It was clear from the lists that there would be no other judges available. Therefore although both Counsel readily agreed that the judge obviously wanted to get away, they weren’t prepared to accept an adjournment with such a lame excuse.

Back they went with their answer. The judge then pointed out that one of the expert’s reports and two of the witness statements had been served late (around a week for each). Both counsel immediately piped up that neither objected to this delay.
“Well, rules are rules, you know. I’m minded to adjourn this and to call the solicitors hear personally to explain their breach.”

“With respect, Sir,” came back the reply from the other side’s counsel. “We are here on a multi track trial. The parties, their lay witnesses, their legal representatives and both experts are all here for a fight. Today is probably costing the parties more than £10,000. To adjourn, Sir, would be contrary to the interests of justice.”

That would have been just the right submission. However, he continued with the following:
“In fact Sir, it is just the sort of case that if the Court of Appeal were to examine it, they would absolutely insist that it should have gone ahead today.”

Ouch. As he said these words you could almost see them leaving his mouth and at the same time he was trying to grasp for them. To take them back. Never said it. No. Never. Just your imagination. Except he just did.

“Are you threatening me?”
“No, Sir. Please, Sir, if that’s what you imagine I mean by those words, I retract them wholeheartedly.”
“Which bit do you retract? The threat?”
“Yes. No. I mean…”
“Mr [Blogs]. I have been in this game for a lot longer than I care to remember and I do not care to be lectured on what the Court of Appeal might or might not think of my local justice.”
“No, Sir.”
“I care even less for direct threats made at my office. If you want to appeal me. By all means. But never. I repeat, never. Threaten me. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir. I’m very…”
“Because if you threaten me, I will not only send you over to the cells at the magistrates court for contempt. I will also pass the case over the your brand new sparkling Standards Board.”
“Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir.”
“Now. I am minded to adjourn this case unless I hear any objection to the contrary from either of you.”

Both Counsel bowed their heads in dismay. They both knew they should argue further but they both also knew that to do so would neither change the outcome nor do any further good.

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