There were only a few comments when I asked, on twitter, for recommendations for the civil case of the year. I have overlooked the obvious candidate (Denton)and gone for a case that can, and should, reinvigorate belief in the civil justice system. The decision of HH Judge Anthony Thornton QC in AA -v- London Borough of Southwark  EWHC 500 (QB).
THE DAVID -v- GOLIATH ELEMENT
The Council insisted at trial that this was a minor case involving a lawful eviction who had lost goods of £6,190 and a set off of rent and costs of £2,919.60. (It is difficult to understand, therefore, why the Council felt it necessary to spend hard-earned community-charge payers’ earnings on employing leading counsel).
Despite the fact that this was a litigant in person facing a QC. Despite the obvious inequality of arms the claimant managed to show, according to the judgment, that:
“(1) The eviction was unlawful and an abuse of process both because the warrant was issued without the prior permission of the court and in the manner in which it was executed.
(2) The various officers of the defendant conspired to evict the claimant by unlawful means, to seize and destroy his possessions by unlawful means and to cause him harm and loss be evicting him of his possessions by unlawful means. This conspiracy was subsequently covered up by a further conspiracy which gave rise to abuse of process in the subsequent court proceedings and to a continuing deprivation of the claimant’s enjoyment of his tenancy and loss of his possessions.
(3) Three officers exercised their powers as public officers in relation to a local authority secure tenancy for an improper motive with the intention of harming the claimant by having him evicted when there were no reasonable grounds for his eviction and by arranging for his possessions to be seized and destroyed unlawfully.
(4) The claimant had, as a result of these facts, also been caused loss by the negligence of the defendant, by its breach of his right to the quiet enjoyment of his tenancy and as a result of the lack of respect shown to his private life by the defendant.
(5) The claimant was entitled to substantial damages that extended to special or general damages, aggravated and exemplary damages and damages for breach of contract and for the various torts he had been subject to and for equitable remuneration for the lost work stored on his hard drives, discs and memory sticks and for his lost photographs as well as a remedy for the loss of his tenancy on a basis still to be determined.”
INADEQUATE DISCLOSURE AND ANODYNE WITNESS STATEMENTS
The judge held that there had been inadequate disclosure; that there had been a deliberate decision not to call key witnesses that the witnesses called by the defendant had been covering up. See the discussion in an earlier post.
“Three short and anodyne statements were produced in very similar terms that gave very similar but inaccurate accounts of the eviction. They even look as if they were produced on the same computer and printer and were drafted in unison. One of these statements is dated 31 May 2013.Thus, the agreed intention of all three officers appears to have been to co-ordinate an attempted cover-up of what happened when they each gave evidence to the Matthews investigation.”
NOT JUST DAVID -v- GOLIATH BUT IMPORTANT LESSONS GENERALLY
This case shows the importance of giving proper disclosure and taking full and careful stock of a case prior to trial. It demonstrates that on occasions, a trial, like sunlight can be the best disinfectant.