I’ve been defending possession proceedings in the county court since 1995, so I go back to the days before the Woolfe reforms, when wigs and gowns were de-rigeur and courts were open so bored people sat at the back hearing everyone’s laundry being aired and watching you get savaged by the judges.
Slogging it out in the courts
I’ve done it as a duty desk adviser, dealing with approximately 15 cases in a day and I’ve done it as a TRO with 27 years service, counter claiming for harassment and illegal eviction.
I dealt with 4 – 5 cases a week for the five years that the mortgage rescue scheme was operational so I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve stood up in front of judges and tried my best to save the home and quite often getting shouted at in the process.
I’ve been called stupid, incompetent and on several occasions been told to shut up but you develop a thick skin as a result and saving homes is the aim of my game, so it’s water off a duck’s back to be honest.
For the most part it has simply been seeking adjournment to possession applications, suspension of warrants and trying to get the possession order set aside for a variety of reasons. I’ve won cases where I didn’t think I stood a prayer and lost cases that I had presumed were a slam dunk, but there is simply no accounting for judges and their eccentricity or bad moods, being, as they so often are, if you’ll forgive the obvious pun, a law unto themselves.
Judges I have known …
There is a DJ who I won’t mention who, on a busy day of possession cases in the list, clicks a stop-watch the moment your bum hits the seat and woe-betide anyone who waffles, drops their papers or doesn’t get straight to the point.
Another, now thankfully retired was such a demon that an entire website was created by a disgruntled ex-litigant with the aim of spreading the word that she was a tyrant and called for her sacking. On one memorable occasion, I literally had to wipe her spittle off of my face after she launched into me, for God knows what, now lost in the mists of my memory.
One time I was assisting the council’s barrister in front of her and she snarled and ranted during his submissions before dismissing him to wait outside and re-think his argument. Totally unfazed by the aggression he turned to me at the exit door, adjusted his wig and said in an exaggerated stage whisper “What a sexy woman”. I like to think she heard.
Doing the walk of shame, but still saving the house
Then there was judge X who I was up in front of trying to prevent the mortgage company repossessing a home.
I’d exhausted all arguments and he said to me sarcastically “Anything else?”, to which I threw in ‘AVS?” he sighed and asked me what it was. ‘Assisted Voluntary Sale judge’ I replied, a scheme that allows someone to stay in their home until the home is sold to discharge the debt. He looked at the bank’s lawyer and asked if she had heard of it. She hadn’t but I persuaded him it existed and he leaned forward scowling, pointing a wizened finger at me and said “You’ve got 28 days but next time I don’t want to see you walking back through that door without a better argument”.
I was dismissed, chastened and doing the walk of shame but I still saved the home, so ‘Whatever judge’!!! By this time I had already developed the skin of a Rhino, an essential skill for regular court work. Sometimes their vagaries even go your way.
Earning their trust
I turned up to defend a possession case for a tenant who didn’t herself attend. The landlord’s lawyer was overjoyed and pointed to the fact that I’m not a lawyer and can’t speak without the other party there. The judge agreed and let him strut his stuff before turning to me and saying “Now Mr Reeve-Lewis. You know you aren’t a lawyer and can’t speak without your tenant here but hypothetically, if she was here what would you have said?” Thus allowing me to present the entire case to the
Thus allowing me to present the entire case to the open-mouthed astonishment of the other side. The advantage of having been up in front of the same judge on numerous occasions and built a level of trust.
Cutting it short
There is an issue about who has rights of audience in a court case but in practice, I have always found that a judge prefers an unqualified lay rep to a litigant in person just to ease things along. I recently spoke at a conference for housing advice types along with Judge Jan Luba who said something very sensible for us all at the end of his talk.
“If you have 10 points to put forward, make it 3 and we’ll be your friends for life” – commenting on a tendency to over egg the pudding by non-qualified reps. Sometimes guilty as charged when you get into your flow.
“Whats that you’re saying?”
But even a quarter of a century of lay rep work backfires sometimes. I have only 50% hearing in both ears, legacy of having been a professional musician and inveterate clubber during the 90s and I often struggle to hear what is being said.
Courts not being great on acoustics. Just before Xmas, I was in Croydon County court seeking an adjournment.
The judge started talking directly to the tenant, who was wandering off point and I broke the cardinal rule and started to answer for her, immediately realising my mistake and apologising. The judge’s manner didn’t change a bit and he said, perfectly politely “Would you like me to adjourn”………………….and his voice dropped so low I couldn’t hear it.
I nodded enthusiastically and said I would indeed like that. He looked bemused and repeated “Would you like me to adjourn while……..” and again I couldn’t hear the rest and repeated my earlier response that this was exactly what I wanted. Looking completely flummoxed by now he returned to the case. We talked for 20 minutes more and he eventually adjourned the hearing.
Walking out with the result I wanted the landlord’s barrister asked me if I had heard what he said. I replied that I hadn’t and explained my hearing problem. He laughed and informed me that the judge had said “Would you like me to adjourn the case while I have you committed to prison for contempt of court?”. To which I readily agreed…twice.
I like to think the judge thought “Balls of steel “ as opposed to the reality that I’m just deaf as a post.
[Maybe you should write a song about it Ben? Ed]