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Litigants in person: part 5

There was one tricky moment during the case. The litigant in person took out a flask of coffee, poured himself a cup and started drinking it whilst addressing the judge. To be fair, there were no signs or instructions which said you should not do this, and someone who was not a lawyer and had no legal advice might not have realised (as this litigant plainly did not realise) that you are not supposed to do that and that it is discourteous to the judge. When the judge asked him what on earth he thought he was doing the litigant quickly stopped and apologised. This particular judge was relatively mild. Some considerable time later at a legal dinner, the judge told the barrister that during this case when he had mentioned this event at the judges' lunch room, one of the other judges had suggested that the litigant ought to have been sent to into the cells for a short period (10 minutes or so) for a contempt of court. (Both as regards the suggestion that this amounted to a contempt, and as regards the suggested penalty, the judge was quite right not to listen to this somewhat boisterous and erroneous viewpoint).

The judge decided the case against the litigant in person. This meant that not only were the premises closed down, but he had to pay the costs of the local authority. The effect of that was going to be to close his business as a landlord. Although the barrister was convinced the decision was right, he could not help feeling a little sorry for the litigant in person. This was reinforced by the extremely polite behaviour of the litigant at the conclusion of the case (it is easy to be polite when you have won, not so easy when you have just lost and lost your business). His wife and some friends had arrived to show support and they were going outside to sing a song of praise to God. (This sort of support made a nice change for the court room: people coming along to support litigants can often involve some sort of rent a mob trying to intimidate witnesses or a party by prolonged staring and muttered comments.). Since to the barrister's eyes there did not seem to be a lot to be giving thanks for, this must have shown in his expression, because the litigant indicated that things would work out and it was still a case for giving praise. As the singing drifted away from his ears as the barrister walked down the street, whilst admiring the devout nature and the positive approach he could not really see how it could be a case of giving thanks. He also felt a good deal less sceptical than he had done earlier in the case about the litigant's wish to attend the obscure religious festivals. The litigant's observant nature was plainly genuine.

Ten or so years later the barrister was telling this story to some colleagues at a legal dinner. The intervening years had been good for his career and he was now doing much more substantial cases as a silk. He explained that he had recently been called upon to advise on the proper interpretation of some clauses in the disposal of a business (relating to exactly when the rights to certain additional monies arose). He noted that the name of his client (which was unusual) was the same as that of the litigant in person from that case all those years ago. He idly wondered if they were related. The business was far removed from the property sphere and on a much grander scale of operation.

To his surprise, although changed with the years, his new client was obviously his erstwhile opponent, the litigant in person. In case the litigant had not realised it was the same barrister, the barrister reminded him of this fact. (The barrister thought that the litigant might not want to use a barrister when he realised that this person had been involved in a case in which the litigant in person had lost not only the case but the business). The litigant said he knew very well who the barrister was. He had remembered the barrister and decided to use him if he ever needed a barrister. He also said that as it happened losing that case had been one of the best things which could ever have happened to him. It put him out of the property business, and so in consequence he went into this other business which proved to be enormously successful. As it transpired, although the litigant had not known it at the time, he was absolutely right to give thanks.

Michael J. Booth QC