Unofficial Court Observers Report on the case of "Solicitors from Hell" v Adrian Bressington and Awdry, Bailey and Douglas Solicitors in the High Court, Royal Courts of Justice, 28 March 2011
by StuG (RFFJ) 28 March 2011
Mr Tim Line is a well known and respected member of Real Fathers for Justice. Wikipedia lists him as a father’s activist who spent 36 hours on Lord Justice Thorpe’s house. Soon after his family split he posted, on his own blog (www.f4jtimline.blogspot.com) and on www.solicitorsfromhell.co.uk about what he perceived to be the numerous disgraceful conducts of a Mr Bressington, who had represented Tim’s ex-wife during the divorce/contact proceedings. That second protest may soon attract more interest than the first.
As one can expect, Mr Bressington’s firm issued the usual threats of legal action against Tim if he did not remove the posts, emphasising how their legal action could ruin him etc etc etc. True to character, Tim stood firm. Armed with reams of documentary proof, he told them to ‘bring it on.’ They didn’t. And still haven’t.
That was all quite a while ago now. Today, I had the honour of joining Tim in the Royal Courts of Justice as we observed Rick Kordowski, the owner of www.solicitorsfromhell.co.uk, be sued for defamation by Awdry, Bailey and Douglas, the firm for whom Bressington works.
Yes, I’m puzzled too. How can this legal firm avoid suing Tim, but sue Rick for reproducing the same material as is on Tim’s blog? Simple: you manipulate the legal process and, if your transparent legal manoeuvring is not properly countered, the judge has no choice but to play along.
The chances of winning under such circumstances are increased when the defendant is unrepresented and not particularly clued up about either legal process or the area of law they operate within. Rick represented himself. His legal opponents had a barrister well versed in legal process. Rick, conversely, is clearly still on a learning curve.
Libel cases apparently last for three hearings. The first decides the trajectories of the case - what can and can’t be argued. The second hearing stages those arguments and ends in judgment, so the parties need to produce all facts upon which they wish to rely on in court. The third hearing covers costs.
Two weeks before the first hearing, the claimants successfully applied for it to be dispensed with. This meant Rick needed to provide all relevant, factual evidence at round one instead of round 2. Although that evidence was easily available, he didn’t produce it on the day. Tim, the keeper of the evidence, was difficult to get hold of as he had changed address and was still setting up in his new London accommodation. Being a lay person, Rick did not appear to fully grasp the implications of the change in procedure.
Consequently, Rick was slaughtered in court. His defence was stuck out and he was ordered to pay costs exceeding £10,000. Effectively, he went into court without training and without his guard up so, for now at least, he has paid the price of taking on a legal profession very keen to put him out of business.
The judge had a walkover. So much so, that he went too far. He humiliated Rick, and made a meal out of cross-examining him. It is questionable whether a judge should harangue a defendant and thereby manufacture his own evidence but, in this case, in the long run, I think the judge has helped justice along. What happened in court today was an utter injustice, but he provided Rick with a much needed education that’ll come in handy in the Court of Appeal. If not, it’ll certainly come in handy in the European Court of Human Rights, as the McLibel case indicates. But for now, with no money and no legal advice, Rick’s legal education comes the hard way – from judges. He’s getting to meet quite a few.
Rick’s career against lawyers stems from his own experience of them. He lost his business and home in a case where the Law Society upheld a subsequent complaint by Rick that both the lawyers, the one acting for and the one acting against him, were colluding with each other. The Law Society compensated him with £500.
Rick has received mixed reviews for his website, not least for his apparent admin charge of £299 for any solicitor who wants derogatory posts removed. Even his supporters lament this provision in his terms and conditions. It was something the judge relied on heavily today.
Rick’s main argument for publishing material about solicitors is that the postings on his website are in the public interest. The judge swept away this defence with a simple stroke; if the material is in the public interest, why remove it upon receipt of a fee? The judge considered the fee, and Rick’s impecuniousness (the fact that he is broke) indicative of extortion. “so, the people who wish to advertise on your site, having failed to obtain satisfaction via the usual route which bases complaints according to their merit choose you instead.” (Presumably the judge believes in the myth that the Solicitors Regulation Authority is a competent and unbiased monitoring system). “Solicitors then either pay the £299 fee to have posts about them removed, or face legal proceedings knowing your lack of money means they cannot receive compensation.”
Understandable argument, Your Honour, but flawed in reality. As Rick said, few consider the SRA as fair machinery for complaints. And no solicitors have yet been stupid enough to pay the £299 fee. Imagine the fun if they did. So how can Rick be an extortionist if he has not actually received any money? And, of the 1,000 or so posts on the site, only ten solicitors (1%) have challenged them in court. So either 99% of the postings cannot be reasonably challenged, or those legal professionals are happy to be slandered. Take your pick. Rick, in reality, is a genial, softly spoken, decent man battling against the odds. Today’s judicial character assassination was unwarranted. A further judicial slur was the claim that the title “solicitorsfromhell” – meant the website was designed as a front for defamation. Wrong again, Your Honour. It’s only defamation if it is not true and 99% of lawyers featured on the site prefer to leave their details on the site rather than sue.
Rick has lost all ten of the cases against him in court. He struggles to obtain the evidence required and struggles to fight his corner in court. He is a lone operator who is inundated with legal suits – he cannot handle it all, and the legal profession knows it. Today, Rick’s application for leave to appeal, so he could produce the evidence (absolute reams of it, which I have personally seen piled up in Tim Line’s home) was refused on the basis that the judge ‘did not believe the evidence existed.’ Here, I hope, the judge is on very dodgy ground. If it does not exist, why has Bressington not sued Tim directly and have him remove posts from his own personal blog? And why did he try to prevent a late statement submission by Rick to the court?
The judge awarded costs and directed Rick to remove the post about Bressington from the solicitorsfromhell website but Awdry, Bailey and Douglas made no application to achieve the same with Tim Line’s blog at http://www.f4jtimline.blogspot.com/.
The judge reserved his judgment. Personally, I believe judgments should be immediately available. I have seen too many Family Division Approved Judgments suffer from retrospective editing where grounds for refusal of applications or appeals have been textually altered from what was voiced in court, where additional elements have been fabricated, and important elements deleted. But then, the proceedings transcript for today’s open court hearing is already being prepared. We will be comparing the two to ensure they match up. Plus, the judge’s behaviour, more typical of judge’s acting in secret family courts than in open court, has earned Rick the kind of support he has so far lacked. Today, there was an audience to witness it all.
Bressington should not count his winnings yet. The odds will swing against him very soon.