legal eagleThe Neighbour has been in court again.
With yet another lawyer at his side.
Not the one who came to see me about this time last year to tell me to back off, but a rather more down market specimen, decidedly sub fusc alongside his client who was resplendent in smartly ironed shirt and jeans, sporting his crisp white hat with a curly brim in honour of the occasion.

The lawyer was there to defend The Neighbour in a preliminary hearing to see whether the Fiscalia (prosecuting service) would succeed in their bid to put him in front of a penal court in respect of his non respect of the law… wit, insulting, threatening and attacking people who had been granted protection orders prohibiting him from insulting, threatening and attacking them.

The behind the scenes cross and jostle work to replace the local prosecutor seems to have failed – in which case the owner of the hotel which caught fire last year resulting in multiple deaths might have cause to worry – and The Neighbour had been summoned to court to explain why, in his view, matters should go no further.

Perhaps made wiser by previous experience he elected to let his lawyer present his case, which was, reduced to its essence, that whatever it was he hadn’t done it and if he had done it it must have been when he was angry and anyway he wasn’t doing it now but he would be quite happy to be reconciled with everyone as he was a reasonable man and so there was no need to go to a penal court unless those who had complained to the Fiscalia had no respect for Christian principles.

It wasn’t as exciting as in the days when he took things into his own hands in court, and it took considerably longer than his old bravura performances, but at least the judge and his opponents felt safe from having violent hands laid upon them.

His opponents satisfied themselves with stating that in their view he should go before a penal court as he had respect neither for them nor for the law.

This was a step too far for The Neighbour.
With all his old brio he leapt to his feet, brushing aside his lawyer’s restraining hand and bawling that it was all lies and that he had witnesses…lots of witnesses…..important witnesses…..that he…he, you understand…was the victim.
The effect was enhanced by the black eye and swollen nose he was sporting after an encounter with a gentleman whose wife he had made the subject of insulting remarks earlier in the week, both eye and nose seeming to glow with the strength of his passionate outburst.

As his lawyer pulled him down into his seat the judge said pleasantly

Well, you can bring your witnesses into the penal court when the time comes.

And that was that.
The Neighbour and his lawyer departed in a cloud of mutual recrimination and everyone else went home.

I went to see our own lawyer, who had told me that I did not need him for this stage, to recount events.

But his lawyer missed the point, he said. It was nothing to do with what he did or didn’t do….he’s already been found guilty in court on all the claims the Fiscalia brought forward.
It’s about contempt of court…he’s done what the courts told him not to do…and been caught.
He can bring all the witnesses he likes….and the judge will hear them very courteously….but he’s had it.
He’s for the high jump.

So did his lawyer really misunderstand, or was it that he found it preferable to take his client’s instructions?
Given the Neighbour’s propensity for violence, it may well have been the latter…..I gather that he has assaulted his own lawyers before now and uniformly fails to pay them on the grounds that they have let him down in court even when he has been at pains to make available ready bribed witnesses.
What sort of a lawyer is it, he seeks to know, who can lose a case when his client has done all the groundwork for him?

La Nacion Costa Rica
La Nacion Costa Rica
Some other people will be wondering too, what sort of lawyer they had.
In 2009, the cables holding up a suspension bridge over the River Tarcoles gave way.
A bus which was on the bridge at the time fell into the waters below: five of the passengers died and thirty six were injured.

Two years later, the Fiscalia decided to bring charges against the bus driver and three officials of the Public Works Ministry…and the lawyer for the families prepared his case for the penal court.
Nearly three years after that the case came to court – in our local court – where the judge decided not only that no responsibility could be attached to the accused….yes, the poor state of the bridge was known, but a weight limit notice was clearly visible at the entrance to it…but also that he could not, in consequence, award compensation to the families of the victims.

Outrage, both locally and in the comment columns of the press….one law for the rich, another for the poor: millions in compensation for a private company deprived of a road building contract awarded in dubious circumstance, nothing for people struggling to help their family’s kids through education, to support elderly relatives.

The judge suggested that the path to compensation would have been to have taken the case to the administrative courts….logically enough, as the condition of the bridge was the responsibility of the state….but that it was now too late.
The parties had had four years in which to bring their case….four years which expired six months ago.

Carried away by the public scandal of the lack of maintenance of roads and bridges – particularly in rural areas – the lawyer had gone for the wrong court….and, with all respect to his clients, I doubt that they would have instructed him to do so had he not suggested that course of action.

Clearly this raises the usual questions of justice…which is what people expect…and law, which is what they receive and which only reflects justice in so far as groups promoting justice have been able to influence the executive, whether parliament, national assembly or whatever else, to enact just legislation.
Otherwise law reflects the interests of other groups able to influence the executive….interests which might well be perceived as most unjust indeed.

But it also raises the question of the responsibility of lawyers…of any professional providing specialist services to the public.

Anyone can get things wrong….anyone can, with the best will in the world, drop a clanger.
But there are some clangers which will resound in the lives of the clients involved for years to come….and this is one of them.

You can be as outraged as you please with the blatant neglect of the affairs of the rural poor….but you don’t help the rural poor by your indignation…you help them by going for the right remedy in the right court.

Otherwise you are about as much use as a feature writer on ‘The Guardian’…gaining points at your dinner parties of right thinking – or should that be left thinking – friends, and about as much use to the people you claim to speak for as a snowball in hell.


28 thoughts on “Legal…Eagles?”

  1. It all sounded hilarious, until the bridge story….them just bloody tragic. The Guardian would do well to employ you to write some right( left) minded pieces. Jx

    1. The Neighbour in court is something else….you could sell tickets!
      I don’t have a hope of writing for The Guardian..I’m not PC, I’m not culturally illiterate and I don’t go the the right dinner parties….

  2. Written with your usual and striking great skill Helen. You get to the heart of it. Clients may give instructions but those instructions can only be as good as the skill of the lawyer advising. And that ‘skill’ is as varied as the number of people providing it. I feel the tension between what I think I’d do if I were in the clients shoes (with the benefit of understanding the ‘rights’ and the ‘politics’ of tribunal/court etc)- and what they tell me I need to do for them. I worry that they have misunderstood my advice when they say ‘ah but…’ One I represent just now is so incensed at what he sees is the unfairness of his situation that he ignores the reality-testing I’ve done with him and erases my projections of what is most likely to happen if he justifies instead of mitigates (fine line) and his instructions/ his own delivery of his own evidence are likely to sink him. So I give him the knowledge to make an informed decision – and then do what he would do for himself if he had the skill… I follow his instructions – I don’t change his meaning but rather make a silk purse from his words (or I hope I do).

    1. When dealing with unions as clients there was no problem…we all knew what the playing field was like and how the ref was likely to behave.
      With individuals facing discrimination, or the sack, it was another matter. There was so much hurt, so much loss of dignity that I had to spend a lot of time assuaging that before we could get down to discussing what we could, in reality, do.
      But, deference being what is then was, the client usually took on board what I told them….but, taking into account that very deference I had to be as sure as I could be that I had winkled out of them everything that could help their case.

  3. The H.V. Morton book I’m reading includes a comment from an Arab re the British mandate. He said under the Ottomans you bribed the judge and got the verdict you wanted. ‘Under Britain you pay the lawyer, take ages and have no idea what the result will be!’ He preferred the old system.

    1. Or you could have the French system where, if you are a local or national bigwig you don’t have to bribe anyone…..they’re happy to stuff anyone who opposes you.

  4. C’mon, Helen, the law is an ass – wherever you roam. Look how easy it is for a pelican to corrupt the course of justice in France… It makes you wonder why they bother. My father-in-law was beaten around the head with a baseball bat by a driver with a bad case of road rage. Such a bad case of road rage that he failed to notice that he was doing so in front of a Gendarmerie. Even so, it still took over a year for it to go to court, and he was more or less told to be a good boy and sent home without so much as a slapped hand.

      1. Considering the capacity of a pelican’s beak and belly they’d be well suited as politicians….next time I see a photograph of Hollande I’ll be imagining that huge pouched beak…

        France is a disgrace…’re an ordinary person, you get stuffed…if you are a local bigwig you can stuff whom you please.

  5. It’s true that your chances in court are only as good as the lawyer who’s defending you. If your lawyer isn’t very familiar with the relevant area of law or they don’t properly understand all the aspects of the case, you can end up sorely aggrieved. When people bring up the jury v.judge issue, I always say that in the end it’s not who’s making the decision that matters, it’s which side makes the best case and presents the most convincing evidence.

    1. And when you’re an ordinary person you don’t really know if your lawyer is up to scratch or not….they can have all the up to date practice certificates they please, but that is just box ticking.

      We are currently trying to extract my husband’s inheritance from the clutches of his brother – their mother’s executor – who has hung on to the estate for over three years.
      His solicitors are playing a waiting game – on his instructions, one can only imagine – while my husband’s solicitor is rather like a moray eel, waiting under his rock for his prey to make a mistake, which, inevitably, it has.

      Having done jury service you know at first hand how important it is that a case is made out convincingly…..there is a blog I like – The Magistrates’ blog – which shows things from the point of view of the bench and the comments on the CPS are most revealing!

  6. A properly functioning legal system is absolutely essential if there’s any hope for a just society. There are reasons why attorneys, at least where I live, can be charged with malpractice and/or disbarred, and one of them is a failure to understand procedure.

    The attorney or attorneys representing those affected by the above tragedy get to go on with their lives, with little damage to themselves for screwing up, while those affected have to live with the consequences. Incompetence on top of tragedy.

    1. They can be done for malpractice here for similar reasons….but I doubt that the families will go for this…there is a sort of fatalism about it all….what, they think, would be the point?
      What has happened to them has happened….

      After long experience of French lawyers I used to wonder what exactly counted as malpractice in their case and came to the conclusion that the only thing could be not appreciating in time that your client was disliked by a local bigwig and thus defending him properly…

    1. As he seems to have used all the many lawyers in the local town I can only imagine that they are handing him on like something in pass the parcel…if you’ve got him when the music stops you go to court with him.

      Oddly enough he hasn’t – yet – tried for a publicly funded lawyer on the grounds of poverty….

  7. A keen eye and a sharp tongue, and not afraid to use either
    Carry on scratching away at society’s sores.
    I’ll even forgive you sly digs at the Guardian.

    1. I went off The Guardian some years ago…all too New Labour…but I do skim it online only to find the unlovely Monbiot, articles on fashion – fashion in The Guardian! – and assorted professional opinion holders.
      I can get the latter at the local bus stop…

  8. Is there any country out there with a competent legal system, where you can be confident that justice will be served? I somehow doubt it. The Neighbour certainly hasn’t learned from his mistakes has he? He will no doubt get what’s coming to him…or will he?

    The bridge story is absolutely tragic. No justice for the poor 😦

    1. I used to think that England had a decent system…apart from the police tendency to fit up any mental defective within a hundred mile radius of an unsolved crime….but no more. Secret courts, no legal aid except for undeserving cases….justice is once more, like the Ritz, open to all who can afford it.

      We shall have to see how it goes with The Neighbour. Rumour has it he is looking for a hired killer….but with his reputation the man would need to be paid up front!

  9. Any dealings with the law leave me with a sinking horrible feeling, even if it is just something like buying a house or making a will. If nothing else, one has to think of the bill at the end of it all…..

    1. When selling and buying houses in England I did it myself…searches are simple, as is the Land Registry procedure…so I very much resented having to use a notaire in France!
      The only reason that we have a solicitor to deal with Leo’s unlovely brother is the delay in post reaching us…otherwise I would be doing it myself.

  10. I’m glad, if surprised, to hear that the Neighbour is a step nearer getting his just deserts, though I won’t hold my breath for the final verdict. I’m very far from glad, however, that the victims of the bridge disaster have been so badly advised and treated. That really is a scandal and one the authorities should be ashamed of.

    1. No, I’m not holding my breath either… fat lady has sung as yet.

      As to the bridge tragedy…the state of repair of some of these rural bridges is a public disgrace and there must be some means of helping the families of the victims cope with the financial consequences of the disaster…but government is indifferent to the poor.

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