Friday, March 09, 2012

The changing climate

This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr)

Our experience of the Courts and Tribunals service – fragments of which were presented here before - has expanded. And with it, so has our bewilderment.
To our laymen’s eyes, what is going on in these temples of law and wisdom does not look at all like wisdom and law, and it certainly has nothing to do with dispensing justice.

The tribunals are, in fact, creatures of the UK government, so when the government is the party complained against, it may be rather tricky for these establishments to act against themselves. But even allowing for this inherent limitation, what we have seen is far beyond what one could normally expect.

Unfortunately, the matters - as they appear to us - are also kept rather quiet, so that the person in the street can still go about his business, lulled in the conviction that, whenever in need, he will be well served by the law. Eventually, when the majority finds that this is no longer true, the very notion of law will have already taken a different meaning.

In our case against the government, we ventured as far as the first main hearing, with the Department for Transport having splashed out more than £33,000 of taxpayers’ money to defend themselves in grand style.

We, of course, did not have the benefit of any legal assistance. Furthermore, the tribunal, faithful to the principle of armes égales, refused to order the Department to make full disclosure (which, theoretically, they were obliged to do) of the documents in their possession or answer essential queries, despite the fact that the judges have the power to make such orders and that these are fairly customary.

It may be worth mentioning that the information that we tried to extract included certain details relating to the way in which the DfT/MCA had dealt with our disclosures about past maritime accidents investigations and copies of the communications between the DfT/MCA and the Met and other third parties following our complaints. However, it seems that the government did not like such information to get into our hands and, care of the legal system, got what they wished.
And to show their good nature, the Treasury Solicitors, who had been tasked by the judge with the preparation of the hearing bundle, could not help taking this opportunity to mess up our own, carefully prepared, evidence.

Anyway, the government’s most intriguing achievement was the tribunal’s refusal to call any of the witnesses [*] whom we had named and who, as key players, had most relevant evidence to give. This is highly unusual, and not even being given a written refusal or the reasons therefore is more unusual still.

Yet, although we don't have much faith in the system, we shall be persisting, no matter what,  fathom the full extent of official dereliction and then pass the knowledge on.
[*] Interesting details about this particular aspect will be revealed in due course.

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