Both the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and Dennis Jackson, a leaseholder at Plantation Wharf in Battersea, have complained to the Ministry of Justice that a forfeiture case was held in a secret court.
Jackson, 73, had his lease forfeited on January 30 and had 28 days to ask a court to lift the order before it became absolute and he lost his £800,000 property.
On February 26 at Wandsworth County Court considered the case but barrister Alexander Bastin, representing freeholder Cube Real Estate requested that the hearing be held in private.
He objected to the presence of Sebastian O’Kelly, of LKP, as “press” and referred to the Human Rights Act as grounds to hold the hearing in private.
Both Jackson and a barrister for the Prudential, which has a mortgage on the property, told Deputy District Judge Colquoun that they had no objection to the presence of O’Kelly or Martin Boyd, also of LKP, who were the only members of the public who were present.
‘I felt so bullied as a lay applicant by the judicial system’
“I was appalled at the decision and felt alone and vulnerable after they were ordered to leave,” says Jackson. “Such a life-shattering decision [should not] have been taken in private, in spite of my preference that the others were present. I felt so bullied as a lay applicant by the judicial system in allowing Bastin to have them thrown out of court.”
In a letter to Justice Minister Chris Grayling, O’Kelly says: “Mr Bastin was referring to the human rights of Mr Jackson, whose home he had successfully petitioned to forfeit and with whom he has been involved in litigation for the past three years. In that time, a £7,500 service charge dispute had swollen to disputed legal fees of £76,000. It was to pay these that the flat had been forfeited.
“I appreciate that judges in civil matters have wide discretion over whether hearings are held in private. But was that appropriate here, simply because of some mischievous objections to my presence as “press” by the freeholder’s barrister?”
LKP and Mr Jackson are awaiting replies from the minister.
Why was Mr Jackson not advised that he could have asked for a McKenzie Friend (or two) – (A McKenzie friend assists a litigant in person, (even in ultra-private matrimonial cases), and does not need to be legally qualified. Litigants in person are entitled to have assistance, lay or professional). Can LKP state the reasons on which the Court made its decision?
The court was informed that I was “press” and my colleague Martin Boyd was described as Mr Jackson’s “advisor”, by Jackson himself. We were both thrown out. The Ministry of Justice, MPs, media and civil liberty groups are all aware of this issue and we are waiting for an explanation.
A major consideration here is that if the forfeiture had not been lifted, Mr Jackson would have been utterly ruined and made homeless by a secret court.
It is difficult to understand why a lay litigant’s advisor was excluded from the proceedings. As pointed out, a lay litigant is entitled to have an advisor to assist him, even if the advisor is not a lawyer. What did the judge give as the reasons for the exclusion?
Given that Mr Jackson’s entire livelihood was at risk here, we did not argue with the judge but left the court. The judge offered to explanation, which is why we are asking for one from the Ministry of Justice.
Given the seriousness of forfeiture – and Mr Jackson’s specific request that we be present – this is a serious issue and we are involving civil liberty organisations and the media.
It was utterly outrageous that the freeholder’s barrister quoted the Human Rights Act here.
Very interesting, but confusing.
Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights reads:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations …….everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing …..Judgment shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interest of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.”
I assume that this was what Bastin argued? I also assume there were no issues of morals, national security or juveniles involved, and that it was only the protection of the private life of the parties that was sought. Bastin’s remit was to protect only the private life of his client, and his brief would not have extended to any other party. I cannot believe Cube would have any private life requiring this protection. Neither Prudential nor Mr Jackson sought protection – on the contrary, they opposed Bastin’s request.
(NB The court cannot exclude an advisor)
But in your letter to the Justice Minister says: “Mr Bastin was referring to the human rights of Mr Jackson”. Baffling.
Indeed baffling. So I shall share the reply from the Ministry of Justice when I receive it.