. Against Da Law (Part 1) | London Progressive Journal
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Against Da Law (Part 1)

Sat 15th Jul 2017
























One Law For The Rich. Nothing new about that, but here’s some Gonzo to
fill in the gaps.

In his brilliant comic monologue on class, the late Peter Cook sighed,
“I’d rather be a judge than a miner.” And, he explains, “I could have
been a judge but I never had the Latin.” In that pithy, hilarious
observation Cook totally nails the social divisions that have shaped the
relationship between the poor and Da Law!

Given the Hamburg summit negotiations, and the aftermath of the tragedy
at Grenfell, matters of legality loom large in the zeitgeist. Seems a
good time to submit my own law-brushes to the jury of you readers. Not
that it will get me anywhere, but it might allow you to consider anew
one of the precious social values we’re assumed to share. The rule of
law.

I’m dealing here with English law, only because the Celtic nations are
subject to various devolvements, and, hey! I’m neither a lawyer nor a
legal expert. Also, since I first moved to the UK in the late 1960s,
it’s the only law I’m familiar with, and we do need some context.

1189 AD marks the year from which we in England have been guided by
common law as opposed to a codified civil law. In short our rule of law
depends on judicial precedent, meted out and interpreted under the aegis
of the Courts and Parliament.

I heed the warning Lord Neuberger presented last week to the Australian
Bar Association. 'The sad truth is that in countries with a long
peaceful and democratic history such as the UK (and, I suspect,
Australia), we face the serious risk that the rule of law is first taken
for granted, is next consequently ignored, and is then lost, and only
then does everyone realise how absolutely fundamental it was to society.
It is peculiarly ironic that this is happening at a time when we have
never been more concerned to ensure that all citizens enjoy rights.'

Neuberger was talking about the steady dwindling of legal aid services
for both civil law as well as private family law cases. This covers such
family matters as divorce settlements, neighbour disputes, custody, et
al. The common law also protects in contract arbitration, trusts, and
property. By contrast, there are some 3500 categories of criminal
offences, varied over the years by Acts of Parliament.

What’s become increasingly disturbing to those decent lawyers trying
their best to separate a law breach from the person who committed it, is
the way the poor are being squeezed out of the judicial process. Justice
is not supposed to be bought, but guess what? Money talks. It says, hey
there, you solicitors and barristers charging a couple of hundred quid
an hour to a couple of thousand… ditch the lower classes and the
judiciary’s full Monty is at your disposal whether Prosecution or
Defence.

Sadly, successive governments have regarded Legal Aid as dispensable,
and not only on cost grounds, though that’s given as the primary cause
for its restrictions. More recently, the legal profession has taken its
cue from Lord Neuberger. Robert Bourns as president of the Law Society
asserts that ‘… cuts to legal aid have had a massive impact on people's
ability to enforce and defend their rights. If you cannot access advice
or protect your rights, then effectively they do not exist.’

If you ain’t so rich, well, let me share some home truths.

I Fought Da Law, and Da Law Won. Most media reporting of legal matters,
especially in the tabloids, is concerned with huge pay-outs to
celebrities who’ve had their reputations damaged, or the manufactured
outrage against sentences which are too lenient [which implies that the
judicial system itself is not fit for purpose.]

But what do you do if you’re the victim of injustice against major
institutions, walled up behind teams of legal eagles whose expertise
focuses first and foremost on closing ranks and damage limitations?
Well, you either do the post-war cap-doffing English thing to know your
place and shrug and forget about it. Or, if you’re a terrier like me,
raised in the assertive 1950s and 60s America, who’s offended by such
abuse of power, you try your luck in court and hope that truth will win
the day. I’ll tell you up front – it didn’t, well not quite.

I have two such tales to tell, both of which seriously call into
question the chains that tether claimants and litigants, and the
cowardice of the establishment to tackle the injustices. These are quite
complex matters – and at some point I plan to detail them in a wider
forum – so this article only skims the surface. Otherwise we’d be here
all week!

The first case was me v BT. It’s set about three years ago against the
backdrop of the company’s near futile questioning by the Public Accounts
Select Committee of its scurrilous practices, including the obscene
salaries and bonus payments of its CEO and FEO, and its ironic continued
placing as the number one recipient of consumer complaints.

Most public moans were and continue to be about missed appointments,
broadband connections and speeds, appalling customer service, and most
of all – lack of accountability. My own was solely about breach of
contract – the appalling service came afterward as a result of my
pursuit of Da Truth!

BT’s tactics, I discovered, include attempting to blame the consumer and
lying. Customer service [or more accurately disservice] is predicated on
such tactics. The contract I signed for a combo landline and broadband
service stated my obligations to them and theirs to me. The latter was
clear that any total loss of broadband for more than three consecutive
working days would be a breach by BT. Guess what? They breached! In fact
my broadband wasn't fully restored for nearly two months.

Their first fishy wiggling involved the procedure used to report the
faults or breaches. Without detailing all the factors, suffice to say my
ongoing health condition, well known to BT, and its prior assurance to
me that I was supposed to be treated as a vulnerable customer, all made
me confident that my broadband loss would be treated as a matter of
priority. Hah!

Because I had no internet access I wasn’t able to report the loss in an
eMail. The phone operatives, only some of whom spoke fluent English,
claimed there was no notice on my account of my health condition, and
that their tests showed nothing wrong. I was even told that this was the
fault of my equipment and I needed to upgrade everything. I was told to
monitor the situation. They rang off without giving me a reference
number.

I explained my total dependence on my net access was because I can no
longer go shopping and everything I need to live – food, supplies, etc –
needs to be ordered online and delivered. They repeated I had to monitor
the situation and ring them back.

When I did I was told this was a new report; my previous report didn’t
count. I pleaded, then demanded that they authorise an engineer to fix
the problem – as they had on the previous occasion a few years before.
They refused. As you’ll know, customers cannot directly contact the
engineers – known as OpenReach.

I won’t go into how this impasse escalated to the point where the case
was passed to an English-based customer service team, or the outright
[documented] lies they told me, or the increasingly insulting treatment
I received, or their refusal to acknowledge the breach of contract. They
falsely told me that my only recourse was to contact the ombudsman –
which proved a spectacular waste of time. They never told me I could
take them to the small claims court at that stage.

All those wasted months and months, had an increasing effect on my
chronic coronary condition, including severe stress. But I finally bit
the bullet and started a legal claim against BT. The procedure used to
be quite straightforward – it was a useful way that those who couldn’t
afford legal representation might get justice. Now, though, the cases
are rated, with each level obliging the claimant to pay an escalating
fee depending on the total amount of the claim.

I didn’t know how to calculate such an amount, and said I’d accept the
judgement of the court. Apparently, that’s not what you’re supposed to
do.

I was naïve enough to assume that not only did I have a case for
contract breach, but an allied case for medical negligence considering
the outrageous treatment I’d been receiving from the more than twenty BT
operatives assigned to deal with me. I’d long ago learned to only ever
deal with BT in writing, which is the only method the legal system will
consider. So in order to have my case heard at the right level, I had to
pay over £300 upfront.

I was unable to afford any lawyers, but was given a pro-bono
consultation hour by the Citizens Advice Bureau as preparation. BT made
two unsuccessful attempts to have my case dismissed before I was able to
say anything. By the time the case was re-scheduled – wasting more
months of anxiety – I suffered a minor stroke, which delayed matters
even further. And, by the way, the local court which was designated as
the venue – announced it was closing – though it was to remain open for
cases already in train. Somewhere in the re-scheduling, all my volumes
of written evidence were lost or misplaced by the court. Luckily I had
copies!

BT refused to acknowledge my requests to call their personnel for
questioning. But finally, some two years after I’d started the claim, I
was able to present my case before a judge whom I found to be very
fair-minded. He stated in no uncertain terms that based on the volume of
evidence I submitted, BT had indeed breached the terms of their contract
with me.

Partly because the court was in the process of closing, the full summary
of the judge’s adjudication was not printed. Instead, I had to pay a
further £100 or so pounds to get an official transcript; which is only
possible 1) if you actually know that’s an option and 2) can locate the
private company designated to carry that out.

So, after more delays due to court closure, I finally got the official
transcript. The judge was at pains to include that I was “no liar,” and
again that BT had breached its contract.

I didn’t actually know what to do next, so I contacted the BT liaison
lawyer who’d been dealing with the matter in the nearly two years before
the court case. I asked for some negotiation for BT to make amends. She
said that no further action was required.

I was flabbergasted. I asked some journo mates; one suggested The Daily
Mirror page that investigates miscarriages of justice. They agreed to
cover this and sent a photographer. The article was scheduled. Before
publication they asked BT for their side. Their reply. “No comment.”
Yes, they ran the piece, but no further follow-up.

Back to Square One. I then found out that the Radio 4 consumer watchdog
strand You and Yours might help. The producer put me on to one of their
investigative reporters. He said they’d definitely help and were
arranging to send a car to take me to my local BBC radio studio for an
interview. Then silence. I waited. Finally, I rang and asked to speak to
the reporter. Not available. Left some messages. No reply. Rang again.
He wasn’t available said the lady who answered. And he won’t be free to
speak to you. Ever. And we’re not doing your story. But … what’s
changed? I asked. We’ve already done some stories about BT. Yes, but
they were totally different. We’re not ever doing your story, good-bye.

Now, here’s a snippet of related interest. Parliament has agreed that no
employee of a company in a case like mine can personally be sued or held
accountable for their behaviour to customers. And here’s another in the
pipeline and scheduled to be put into effect after Brexit: no company
will be able to be sued by a member of the public.

Oh, yeah, did I mention that BT head honcho Gavin Patterson recently had
a £4 million pay and bonus cut due to his part in the company's half a
million quid accounting scandal in its Italian operation. Poor Gavin -
only £1.35 million take-home pay this year. Boo-hoo!

Please feel free to post some comments about this. I’ll be presenting
the second of my legal battles in a few days. If this one makes your
blood bubble, the next is me versus HMRC. That one took about 14 years
to get to court. YIKES!
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