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5 November, 2007  
London Calling

Parliamentary snouts in trough … Shocking moments with litigants in person … Auditor General chalks-up astonishing food and travel bill … Victorious out of touch solicitor wins glory

imageFor years Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s right hand man has been Ed Balls, a former financial journalist.

He is no shrinking violet. A recent book about Tony Blair by Dr Anthony Seldon reveals that Mr Balls was astonishingly rude to Gordon’s predecessor and thought him a moron.

Balls is now the Families Secretary and his wife, Yvette, who for some mad feminist reason chooses to retain her maiden name of Cooper, is the Housing Minister.

The cabinet stars have been in the thick of it since official government figures showed they were the top claimers of parliamentary expenses from the BTP (British Tax Payer.)

The golden couple sought £300,000 last year including nearly £32,000 for their registered second home in London.

The rules say an MP’s main home is the one where they spend most nights.

imageEd and Yvette (pic) have three little Balls registered at school in London but their main home is in far off Yorkshire. Their spokesperson said that their claim was substantially less than they were entitled to under the rules.

One of the highest individual claimers was Labour MP Joan Ryan who asked for £173,691 and she represents the London constituency of Enfield North.

MPs, like former minister Clare Short, have been criticised for failing to front for debates. Of the 563 parliamentary divisions last year, Clare’s attendance rate was 7.8 percent. Given that in 10 years the government has passed 455 Acts, she’s probably setting a good example.

The most frugal MP was the delightfully named Tory Phillip Hollobone (attendance rate 87 percent) who claimed only £44,551. He said he had saved money by shunning an external research service and using the Commons library more.

* * *

Some years ago, a senior judge in the Civil Division was asked what he would do about litigants in person (LIPs).

His considered response was that he would like to line them up along the wall and shoot them.

Judges in England of course must shoulder some of the blame for the swelling ranks of LIPs (or swollen LIPs), because the Civil Procedure Rules make it easier for them to appear in any court.

The rules were written in response to Lord Woolf’s report, Access to Justice, the burden of which was that unrepresented litigants were getting neither Access nor Justice.

imageNow they have Access in spades.

Robert Griffiths QC (pic), in the news as a consequence of appearing for Aussie cricket umpire Darrell Hair, was asked in The Times what his worst day as a lawyer had been.

“Being physically assaulted in front of a High Court judge. My opponent, a litigant in person, purported to make a citizen’s arrest for my delivering submissions contrary to his case which he characterised as an act of ‘high treason’.”

Disturbing as this must have been, it doesn’t come near the harrowing experience of a young female solicitor with the well-known firm Hill Dickinson.

She and her counsel applied in the Master’s Court to strike out a LIP’s particulars of claim. The LIP had secured the services of a McKenzie Friend, who happened to be her elderly husband.

During a spirited address, the McKenzie Friend shouted:

“You have taken everything from us. You have even taken the shirt from my back.”

To the gasps of onlookers he then proceeded to disrobe. Completely.

The judge, wishing he could have used the time-honoured phrase “I can’t see you”, wisely stood the case down.

The solicitor’s wry comment was that she could never again eat another cocktail sausage.

* * *

It’s that subject again: only in England could the police shoot a man seven times in the head and be found guilty of breaching the Health and Safety laws.

* * *

In the same week that the parliamentary expenses were revealed, Gordon Brown paid tribute to the Auditor General, Sir John Bourn.

Sir John, one of the few public officials who can only be dismissed after a vote in both Houses of Parliament, has decided to lay down his green pen in January next year.

Perhaps he is exhausted. It was revealed that in carrying out his duties, often with the missus in tow, he had been on 43 foreign trips of which 22 were first class journeys to places as far afield as San Francisco and Brazil.

imageIn addition, Bourn (pic) had enjoyed 164 lunches and dinners courtesy of the BTP.

In total, in three short years as head of the National Audit Office, Sir John racked up £365,000 in travel expenses and £27,000 in restaurant bills.

The Prime Minister said:

“I am very grateful to Sir John Bourn for his leadership of the NAO over many years, during which it has performed a crucial function scrutinising public spending and propriety, and send my best wishes for his retirement.”

* * *

A solicitor, who came out of retirement after 25 years to represent her 87-year-old friend, has won £13,560 in compensation and legal costs.

Vivien Symons, 89, admitted to practice in 1947, successfully appealed a decision not to award any money to her friend, who was badly assaulted last year in Bath city centre.

Mrs Symons told the court, “I’m a bit out of touch, so be patient”.

After her victory she said to her client, “You got the money and I got the glory”.