Tag Archives: abuse of power

A real charity case

Below is a press release from the National Bargee Travellers Association. Please share the link, this story needs to be in the public eye so that people understand what a donation to ‘charity’ Canal & River Trust means in practice. This situation is sick, and only widespread public condemnation will bring this outfit into line. It is my personal opinion that there is nothing charitable about the Canal & River Trust and that their behaviour is a affront.

Waterways Charity demand £76,000 from disabled boater denied Legal Aid

Following a Section 8 case, the Canal & River Trust (CRT) is bringing further court proceedings to obtain over £76,000 it claims it spent on legal action against disabled boat dweller George Ward. Mr Ward’s Legal Aid covered advice but he was unable to obtain Legal Aid for representation in court. If he had been represented through Legal Aid, CRT would not be able to make this claim for legal costs.

CRT is aware that Mr Ward’s only income is Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance of £102 per week. He has been unable to work since an injury that left him disabled. Mr Ward’s only assets are his home, a pair of historic boats needing extensive repair work that he bought for £3,830. If CRT is successful in enforcing its costs order, it can petition for Mr Ward’s bankruptcy which means his boats can be sold to pay the costs, leaving him homeless. Much of the £76,000 CRT claims to have spent was used to pay the QC, Christopher Stoner, who unusually for this type of case, represented CRT in case management hearings as well as at the main trial. According to CRT’s Bill of Costs, Mr Stoner’s fees amount to almost £45,000.

BW/CRT started Section 8 proceedings in 2010 after Mr Ward was unable to get a Boat Safety Certificate in time to re-license his motor boat. On the day that he got the Certificate, BW issued the Section 8. During the court proceedings BW prevented him from re-licensing his butty boat, claiming that its licence depended on the motor boat being licensed, which was not true as both boats had been licensed independently. Mr Ward attempted to licence his boats several times but each time BW sent back his cheque, even when he tendered all the money BW alleged he owed including a disputed Late Payment Fee of £150.

Mr Ward eventually bought a second motor boat for £1,100 and tried to license the two boats not subject to Section 8 proceedings, but BW again returned his cheque. Shortly before the hearing in Bristol County Court in October 2012, he sold the first motor boat, using the proceeds to repair his second motor boat. The court granted the Section 8 but this was nullified by the fact that the boat had a new owner. The Judge declined CRT’s request to apply the Section 8 to any other boats belonging to Mr Ward and did not grant CRT the injunction it wanted to evict him from its 2,000 miles of waterways for ever. An injunction could have meant that Mr Ward risked being sent to prison simply for living on the two boats that had never been subject to Section 8 proceedings.

George Ward said “CRT’s move to take over £76,000 from me that they know I don’t have is vindictive and malicious. They are determined to hound me off the waterways. They failed with the Section 8, they failed to get an injunction, so they are trying another way to make me homeless”. He continued “This is harassment, they are trying to put psychological pressure on me so that I move off the canals. They won’t succeed, except over my dead body”.

CRT knows that if Mr Ward had obtained Legal Aid for representation in court it would not have been able to claim these costs from Mr Ward. There is no realistic prospect of recovering £76,000 from a 54-year-old disabled man on benefits whose only assets are worth less than £4,000. Civil court costs cannot be recovered through deductions from welfare benefits. Neither can costs be recovered from money paid to the same organisation for another purpose. CRT is aware that pursuing Mr Ward for this debt will make him homeless.

CRT could have allowed Mr ward to re-license his boat when he obtained the Boat Safety Certificate, and could have sought to recover the disputed late payment charge as a Small Claim. CRT could also have used its discretion under Section 17(11) of the British Waterways Act 1995 to permit his boat to be on the waterways without a Boat Safety Certificate until the certificate was obtained. Instead it vindictively pursued him with a Section 8 action and rejected all his attempts to pay.

In the absence of a Solicitor to represent him, Mr Ward was assisted in court by Nick Brown, Legal Officer of the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA). This was necessary partly because Mr Ward found the court hearings extremely distressing. In a move that was obviously intended to intimidate Mr Brown and silence the NBTA, CRT also sought a costs order against Mr Brown. The Judge rejected this, stating in the Judgement that Mr Brown had been “helpful and polite”.

The Royal Courts of Justice provides guidance regarding “McKenzie Friends” (unqualified assistants for people in court without a legal representative). Nowhere does this guidance include a warning that a McKenzie Friend is at risk of a costs order against them for helping someone who would otherwise face court proceedings alone and unassisted.

Section 8 (2) of the British Waterways Act 1983 entitles CRT to remove an unlicensed boat from the waterway. A Boat Safety Certificate is normally required before a boat can be licensed.

For more information contact: secretariat@bargee-traveller.org.uk

Living dangerously

I’m going to be talking broadly and generally today, but there are some very specific things underlying my thoughts. There are also legal implications to these issues, which is why I’m going to talk obliquely.

In the UK, it is understood that we are policed by consent. There are a lot of people, the police do not carry guns and so viable policing depends on public co-operation. When people riot, as they did last summer, that relationship has broken down, and it is very difficult to fix. We can only be policed by consent if we agree with the laws and the methods of the police. In a healthy, and functional State, the police themselves are governed by the rule of law and answerable to the politicians, who in turn are answerable to the electorate. Policing by consent works because there is a degree of scope for response when things go wrong. We have a police complaints commission. We take death in custody seriously. I have no doubt we could do better on that score, because there is always scope to do better in all things.

It’s not just the police who have the right to police us, though. To a certain extent we are also policed by the inland revenue, customs and excise, border control, the TV licensing people, the car tax people, we have council tax, VAT… all kinds of situations in which all kinds of people in official places are empowered to make us do certain things. The systems we have as a country require this, the raising of revenue for government depends upon it. Most of these structures are reasonably fair, reasonably transparent, and reasonably possible to work with. There are also systems in place for complaints, and a limit on exactly how much damage any one of these outfits can do to you if you fall foul of them. The vast majority of government run policing outfits do not have the power to entirely destroy your life, and this is as it should be.

I am very glad to say that there are laws in this country governing what any person or organisation with power, is able to do to an individual who does not have power. I think one of the most important things laws can do is give protection to the weak and vulnerable from those with the power and influence to just crush them on a whim. The measure of a country is its treatment of its poorest and most vulnerable people. We could do better. There is always scope to do better.

However, all of these checks and balances depend on a number of things. If an individual does not know their rights, and does not know the law, they cannot call on it anything like as effectively. If a person believes that the system is bound to be hostile to them, the odds are they won’t even take the risk of seeking justice. We are getting better, the ordeal of taking a man to court for rape is not as hideous as it was. It’s still pretty awful. We are not quite so institutionally prejudiced against people for reasons of race, affluence, gender, sexuality or religion. But it is also fair to say that we are not entirely free from prejudice either. There are biases and assumptions. That we can still even ask what a rape victim was wearing suggests we assume a person can bring rape upon themselves. We still blame the victims, we still look far too kindly on money, we still make it hard for poorer people to access justice. We also have a legal system so vast and convoluted that a normal person cannot hope to know all of the law. Not knowing the law as it pertains to you, is not a legal defence. This is a breeding ground for injustice. It disadvantages the less literate, the less mentally astute, the less educated and those who cannot afford to buy advice at every turn. We cannot uphold the law, unless we have a fighting chance of knowing and understanding the law.

And so it is that there are people, and organisations, who are successfully abusing power, using the language of law to threaten and intimidate, and manipulating a flawed, but well meaning system, in order to persecute people. But they’ve got lawyers, and I have not. They can afford to sue me into the ground if I speak out. They know where I live.

I believe that laws should protect the weak and vulnerable from those who are already too powerful. I believe in freedom of speech and I am utterly opposed to abuses of power. And I have absolutely no idea what could happen to me, here in England, were I to go public about what I think is happening. I could just sit on it, and hope that none of the bad stuff happens to me, and try to ignore the people I know who are suffering. But I won’t. I also know there’s at least one journalist subscribed to this blog. I’m open to suggestions.