Success is temporary, class is permanent
A few words to mark the point at which the Inquiry really starts to grapple with allegations that the legal system was abused
This week the Post Office Inquiry turns its mind to what I think of as the ‘first phase’ abuses of the legal system alleged in the PO Scandal. I was asked by a journalist what I thought this phase of the Inquiry was about and it is about bullying; the abuse of power, the power possessed by lawyers and their clients. Did they use the law and lawyers or their power as lawyers inappropriately?
Traditional notions of lawyers’ ethics distance themselves from responsibility for this power. Lawyers take any client (as long as they can pay their fee) without judging the morality of the situation (neutrality); and is not accountable for what the client wants them to do as long as it is lawful (non-accountability); and they are to act in the clients best interests (partisanship, they do everything they can to help the client). The Bar amps this up a notch with the notion of fearlessly representing their client; fearlessness, once there to remind the Bar of the need to temper arbitrary power, can be a handmaiden for excessive legal aggression.
The problem, in essence, is whether modern lawyers take these nostrums to their heart a little too much; forgetting their obligations to be independent and to protect the rule of law and the administration of justice. Solicitors also have an obligation not to take unfair advantage of others by virtue of their position. This is particularly, nut not only, true of cases involving litigants in person.
When the High Court called the Post Office’s case a ‘flat earth’ one and the Court of Appeal described their behaviour as an affront to justice, you can see that partisanship may have overcome professionalism. This is one of the things the Inquiry will be exploring in the coming weeks.
This week’s spotlight is shone on a partner with Womble Bond Dickinson. He had publicised (on LinkedIn) his success in a case against a litigant in person, Lee Castleton. You can read about Lee’s case here and something of the way he became a marketing tool for Mr Dilley here (more of that in the Inquiry I expect too). Castleton was bankrupted by the PO; he alleges he was told by Mr Dilley that the PO would ruin him. Dilley denies that but ruined Castleton certainly was.
We will have to wait to hear the evidence to see what to make of the allegations levelled against Mr Dilley on this case, but I don’t think it premature to comment on the fact that the success of that case was rather blown away by the Bates case in 2019, but for some reason Mr Dilley continued to wear the case of Lee Castleton like a badge on his Linkedin schoolbag for a good while afterwards.
On another matter, our project website is live: do take a look….!