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“…you will be taken from this place to a place of lawful….”

01 Jul

I wasn’t going to post anything else, probably until after the holiday, but I couldn’t resist posting this.  The episode caused great hilarity in the office…then the writing went into full flow.

This happened a mere 24 hours ago…

.

.

I didn’t expect the full black cap routine; after all it was only the local small claims court….and it wasn’t even me that had been summoned!

A friend of mine with a small home improvement business had received a summons taken out by an unhappy client.  Unfortunately (for me that is) my friend and his wife would be in New York celebrating their Silver Wedding on the day of the case and so he needed…a “patsy” I believe is the vernacular term, to attend in his place.  At the time I didn’t appreciate that this also meant “condemned” in his place.

Why was I there?  Oh, I was only there to apologise to the court for my friend’s untimely absence and to see if the judge would postpone the case to a later date.

I checked my bag.  Gown…lots of big heavy books and yes…the white curly wig.  That should do the trick.  I had taken final instructions from my client and was ready to counter whatever spurious claims the prosecution could conjure up.

Was I treating this too seriously?  I don’t think so!

.

.

In reality I was quaking outside Court No 4, feeling well out of my comfort zone.

The main reason I’d been asked to turn up was that I knew the circumstances of the case pretty well.  After all it was me who had written the response letter to his former clients on his behalf and who had prepared the statement for the court as his (last line of) defence should the judge decide to press ahead in his absence.  Years of dealing with contractors and conditions of contract had put me in the somewhat unenviable position of knowing a lot…but not necessarily the “lot” that you might need to know.  If I so much as hinted that I knew a bit about contract law, or used terminology that might be construed by the judge as being legal sounding…then we were up s**t creek in a barbed wire canoe without a paddle!  The only thing a judge is liable to hate more than a rogue trader is a wanabe barrister.

The small claims court had been described to me as two parties sitting around a table with a “judge” who would ask both parties suitably penetrating questions then give his verdict.  I was taken aback to find myself sitting behind a glass screen at the back of a decent sized courtroom with about a dozen other various pursuers and defenders staring through the glass at the Clerk of the Court and 14 barristers, each with several kilos of heaped document folders.  We sat sweaty palmed for over half an hour while the clerk of the court discussed the day’s business with them.

At last the door at the other end of the room opened and a gowned and wigged demon from the darkest pits of Hell swept into the court to the insistence of an elderly court usher that we should all get off our guilty backsides and stand respectfully if we knew what was good for us!

Thin and gaunt and a face devoid of the merest spark of humanity, the Sheriff perched behind the clerk of the court gazing malevolently over the massed hordes of black gowned leeches who had the misfortune to be still fumbling with their disorganised case notes.

My friend’s case was first up.  The ageing usher stomped up the court to fetch both me and the pursuers, Mr and Mrs Kitchen.  It was fairly obvious that Mr and Mrs Kitchen hadn’t expected this full court assembly any more than I had.  Hesitantly the three of us shuffled down the left hand passageway towards the front of the court to be stopped by an official hand before we reached the Sheriff.  No seat, no desk, no witness stand.  We stood in the passageway uncomfortably exposed in a raggedy line while the judge scoured the papers for the case.

It was pathetically medieval and unworthy of modern day society.  The King on his throne, the lackeys and sycophants watching with undisguised disinterest and the unfortunate peasants lined up in front with their less than worthy petition.  No wonder people end up in contempt of court when this is how they are treated.   I suspect having contempt for the court is a fairly acceptable standpoint for any right minded individual.  It didn’t take a PhD to work out this charade was an institutionalised ritual of humiliation and intimidation designed to deter, in this case, small claims.

I very quickly learned that utterances consisting of more than one syllable were frowned upon, as my opening responses sailed merrily past his Lordship’s attempt to interrupt me in full flow.  I thought…concentrate…must do better.  Remember, one syllable.

Unfortunately my name has three syllables, so when he pointedly asked who the hell I was, I immediately incurred his Lordship’s considerable ire for the second time.

I could tell it wasn’t going well and my terrified brain was now contemplating a spartan, grey-celled, life with my new best buddy…Big Wullie…and his favourite bar of prison issue soap.

Then I understood.  All he wanted to hear was the word “yes”.  A big juicy, emphatic “YES!”. Any other word had no meaning in his world and was therefore an anathema.  Any other word would be surgically stuck from the proceedings and those uttering said other word likewise.  Maybe this would be easier than I had thought…all I had to do was say “YES!”.

Now that His Lorship had ascertained I was not the defendant, but something much worse, he reckoned it was a good time to pile on the pressure.  Knowing full well that my “friend’s” letter to the court had introduced me simply as “the person who was to explain his absence to the court” His Lordship decided to turn the screw.

“Mr Brown, are you here to represent Mr X?”

Bollocks…deep doo-doo time.  That was stretching the interpretation of the letter a wee bit.  Given a lack of options on the monosyllable front there wasn’t much else I could do.

“YES!”

He nearly smiled.  It was a non-smile that said “Gotcha!”

“Mr Brown, does MrX intend to provide a defence?”

I consulted my data-bank of allowable monosyllables.  It was fairly limited.

“YES!”

He sat back, enquiring eyebrow raised, waiting for me to demonstrate how I was to achieve this rather unlikely feat.  Droplets of perspiration were forming on my over-stressed brow and were cascading down my shirt front.  As soon as I opened my mouth I would break the strict monosyllabic code.  I noticed him frown in anticipation as I took in a rather large gulp of pre-utterance air.

“I have brought a written statement for the court from MrX in response to the pursuers statement included with the summons” I hurriedly squeaked, the monosyllabic code now well and truly shattered.  Big Wullie beckoned.  The elderly court usher grinned smugly and stuck out a hand.

“Mr Brown, have Mr and Mrs Kitchen seen this statement?”

The twisted b*****d knew what the answer would be before he asked.  The “never to be uttered” negative monosyllable beckoned…as did an increasingly happy looking Big Wullie.

“no”  I mumbled.

“Give a copy of the statement to the pursuers Mr Brown.”

I was, by now, on the floor.  Not that I particularly wanted to be there, but having no table in front of me I was having to wrestle the copies of the statement from my folder with the floor being the only available free work space.  I could feel His Honour’s disapproval boring through the top of my head…or it would have been if I hadn’t disappeared totally from sight, crouching behind the temporary security of the Clerk of the Court’s table.  I’d settle for “Life” by this time as, from my under-desk viewpoint, I could just make out his right hand inch towards his all too convenient black cap.  I looked up to find the pursuers smiling down reassuringly…at least they were on my side.  They knew they’d be next and would be seeking moral support from any available source.  They needed to make friends…fast!

There had never been any intention to “hear” the case.  He hadn’t read the papers before today and as soon as he realised there was to be a defence comprising my four pages of highly detailed drivel he decided he was having none of that sort nonsense in his court.   By this time Mr and Mrs Kitchen and I were all holding hands very tightly wondering what our black cloaked tormentor would demand of us next.

First came the carrot.

“Hmm…do you think a settlement could be reached out of court?” he asked a suitably quaking Mr and Mrs Kitchen.

Having just seen what happened to code breaking deviants they fully appreciated His Lordships’ requirements.

“YES!” they piped.

“And you Mr. Brown, do you think MrX will be able to reach a settlement?”

He studied me with a baleful eye.  Was it a trick question?  Could I agree to this on my “client’s” behalf without taking further instructions?  Of course I bloody could!  It was his bloody fault I was here in the first bloody place.  He was lording it in bloody Gordon Ramsay’s in New York and I was facing this bloody Demon of skyscraper proportions.

“YES!” I bawled cheerfully.

Then came the stick.

“I will set a further hearing for 28 days hence.  If you have not reached a settlement by then I will order a full hearing where witnesses will be called and it will cost somebody a f*****g lot of money.  Comprendez?”

“YES!” we all screamed!

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15 Comments

Posted by on July 1, 2010 in General Drivel

 

15 responses to ““…you will be taken from this place to a place of lawful….”

  1. Tessa Park

    July 1, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Oh dear, the fine British law system in action! 😆

     
  2. annienz

    July 2, 2010 at 3:35 am

    LOL!!! Hilarious retelling!

    I’m sure I would personally be reduced to a small snivelling pile of snot should I ever have to appear in such a situation!!!
    I feel guilty when a jury summons arrived for PB – which it does, at least annually, due to the small sample size of the population from which to “randomly” select. Of course, he never makes it on to a jury because he knows practically everyone in town. Never mind if I was the one actually required to appear in court for any reason!!

     
  3. fatdogwalks

    July 2, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Yes ladies…it was a wonderful excursion…a bit like going to the dentist to have all your teeth removed but without the fun! 😀 .

    I served on a jury in the same building a few years ago. Our treatment was only marginally better then…other than the usher who did a sterling job keeping us fed.

     
  4. scott

    July 3, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Magic stuff Ken. You should have said you were going to Court. I know folk. 😉

    Glass screens though? Hmmm. Falkirk?

     
  5. fatdogwalks

    July 4, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I suspect, Scott, that your knowing people might have led to a custodial sentence! 😉

    Is the small claims system always like this – just part of the business of a main court? It certainly wasn’t the informal “round the table” scenario that had been painted by the likes of the Citizens Advice Bureau.

    Your guess may very well be correct…what gave it away…glass screens or the treatment? Please tell me it’s not like that everywhere. 😯

     
  6. Simon

    July 4, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Excellent.

    Interestingly, having been on both ends of small claims at various courts in England I have found it a relatively simple, friendly and pain free experience. Clearly I have misunderstood your account, for otherwise I would be driven to the conclusion that there was something which the English do better that the Scots! (Apart from football.)

     
  7. fatdogwalks

    July 4, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    I’m interested that you appear to be a court “regular” Simon. Is there anything you would like to share with us? 😀

    I took it on trust that it was the small claims court that I was to attend 😯

    Re the football reference I think the phrase should have been “less worse” as neither would appear to have covered themselves in glory. On a cost/benefit analysis we may even come out on top! 😆

    Hope you’ve sorted out something for Tuesday lunch. You still up north?

     
  8. Carrie

    July 6, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Hilarious, wish I had been there (not in place of you in place of Mr X???) just observing. I presume J missed it shame!

    Seriously though its quite bizarre, I thought it was a low key round the table almost tea and biscuits afair too. Is there a chance that Mr X didn’t have the full story of how it had progressed? Anyway Mr & Mrs X definately owe you a guid feed.

     
  9. fatdogwalks

    July 6, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    You missed a very entertaining episode Carrie – not one I intend to repeat in a hurry 😆 .

    The system in England seems to be what we all anticipated – maybe once Scott posts back, him being one of those more familiar with the Scottish legal system than myself, we will then find out whether this is the norm in Scotland or only applicable to the Falkirk Sheriff Court.

    I eagerly await the return of Mr and Mrs X from the USA! 😀

     
  10. Paul

    July 9, 2010 at 11:36 am

    So Ken less than 28 days before you make a return!!!

     
  11. fatdogwalks

    July 9, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    It won’t be me who’s going back Paul…thankfully 😆 . I can hand this one back to my friend who will be back from the States by then. 😀 .

    Anyway I’ve the ascent of CMD and Ben Nevis to attempt in a couple of weeks…so there’s no chance of me making another court appearance. At my current speed I’ll still be grinding my way up CMD when the next hearing comes up. 😯

     
  12. scott

    July 21, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    It’s certainly not just a Falkirk thing, but I think one major problem with the small claims system in Scotland is that there’s not much consistency between various sheriff courts, or indeed among different sheriffs in the same court. And you never know what the, er, vibe is until you turn up in the morning.

    Some of them take the view that the first calling of a case (the one you were at, presumably) is nothing more than a formality and after noting brief details of the dispute they’ll just fix a full hearing for folk to bring along their witnesses/productions/friends & family. Other sheriffs take the case by the scruff of the neck and try and gently nudge (or blatantly bully) people into reaching some sort of compromise settlement. If there were only one or two cases set down for a particular day then there’d probably be a more laid back “tea & biscuits” (lol) approach but life, of course, isny like that and you’ll maybe have 30 or 40 cases to get through, which doesn’t encourage a softly softly approach from the bench.

    As you say, what the sheriff in a small claims case is supposed to do is ask a few pertinent questions to identify the areas in dispute; note the terms of the defence and sort it out asap – if it’s capable of being sorted. Mostly of course it isn’t, because if there’s a dispute on factual matters between pursuer and defender then generally those can only be resolved by the sheriff hearing evidence. Which is why they usually end up fixing the aforementioned full hearing.

    The other problem is that small claims cases were originally introduced to let folk fight with shops about faulty fridges, or with plumbers about shoddy tap installation. The upper financial limit was £750. When they changed that to a limit of £3000, it was always going to make small claims a rather more serious court procedure, and less likely to be capable of resolution by a round the table discussion even with a friendly/proactive sheriff involved.

    If you have not reached a settlement by then I will order a full hearing where witnesses will be called and it will cost somebody a f*****g lot of money.

    Litigation trade secret:- the only good case is a settled case. 😉

     
  13. fatdogwalks

    July 22, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Wow! 😯

    Thanks for that Scott. 😀

    Didn’t realise the Scottish and English systems were so far apart. From what I hear they seem to be better set up for this type of case. MrP will be delighted 😆 .

    More or less confirms my impressions at the time.

    Puzzled about the costs though. I thought there were very low limits – but a full hearing? Does that not involve an awful lot of expense – for someone? Even considering witnesses expenses etc. ?

     
  14. Elizabeth MacLachlan

    August 11, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Nice one Ken. Just read your blog.
    Never been in the small claims court – but – I was up for breach of the peace cited by my ex-neighbour. O was asked in court where my counsel was. I said I didn’t know that I would need a lawyer. I ended up representing myself AND I was found NOT GUILTY on the insistence of the Procurator Fiscal !!!!!!!!! Not bad for a layman ehh???

     
  15. fatdogwalks

    August 11, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Hi Liz, really pleased to hear from you! 😀

    Most impressed, but surely you should have come clean and pled guilty! 😆 If the noise was anything like we used to create when we were…um…a few years younger, then I don’t see how you could have pled anything else.

    You were always so quiet too 😉 . Oh no – that was me, wasn’t it?

     

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