10 October 2012 is looking like a big old day for @familoo.
It will end with the Family Law Awards ceremony later (fingers and toes are all crossed), but it began rather differently.
Today I appeared as a litigant in person in the High Court (proceedings began in 2009 so I get to use the old terminology not your new fangled "self-represented litigant"). As of 1o October 2012 I am a litigant in person no more. I'm quite glad. I was bricking it.
I've not blogged about my personal experience of litigation "for legal reasons" (i.e. for a quiet life). And in fact I'm not going to blather on about the detail of it now either. But because the case was bound up with my blogging I think its important to record on Pink Tape that it happened - and that its finished. I'm not going to name the Claimant because I don't really want to give him the oxygen of publicity, but in reality those who really want to find the information will do so - its out there on the internet, because the Claimant has published the lot, including the allegedly defamatory material that he says so aggrieved him (and which no longer appears on this blog). Other bloggers beware. It is easy to end up in my situation. There but for the grace of un-God go you.
In September 2009 I was in the USA visiting family when I was notified that a claim for defamation had been issued against me arising from a small section of a blogpost that had appeared on Pink Tape. I was heavily pregnant, upset and petrified. I removed the blogpost. To those legal bloggers who exchanged emails with a hysterical pregnant lady who had forgotten the basics of the Civil Procedure Rules - thank you, you know who you are. To the several colleagues at the bar who gave me advice and time and moral support then and since - mostly pro bono - thank you. To those who helped with legal costs or offered to do so, thank you. To my family, who have supported me through what they don't understand - thank you.
In March 2010, a couple of weeks after I gave birth, I secured summary judgment in my favour on two grounds - the judge found that the words complained of were not capable of being defamatory, and the words complained of were true. Because of the timing of the proceedings (getting the baby to latch was my priority crisis at the time) I instructed solicitors and was represented at the hearing. Months later, when I tried to recover my costs, a late appeal was launched. Permission was refused. I obtained another costs order. To date not a penny has been paid towards either and the costs are in excess of £7000.
Months passed again and then in January 2011 Judicial Review proceedings were initiated, naming me as interested party (or the "not very interested party" as I prefer). Permission was refused on paper. An oral permission hearing was sought and in November 2011 came before the court. I didn't attend. It was adjourned for reasons I don't need to go into but in essence in order to ensure that the Claimants argument about procedural unfairness below could be properly aired. Finally today, the permission hearing was heard and disposed of. Permission was refused. The Judge in the Administrative Court found that the judges below had been correct, that there had been no procedural unfairness to the Claimant and that the judicial review application had been wholly without merit. I repeat : WHOLLY WITHOUT MERIT. The twin findings on the original defamation claim were upheld : the words complained of were not capable of being defamatory and even on the claimants version of what I had said were true. He sought permission to appeal. Cheeky.
In the course of these proceedings and in related correspondence I have been accused of perjury, malfeasance, contempt of court and of a conspiracy with a Court of Appeal judge. A number of members of the judiciary and court staff have been subject to similar accusations. I know of four other individuals or organisations who are or have been the respondents to litigation brought by the Claimant in my case. and from what I can gather the Claimant has been claimant or applicant to one set of proceedings or another (sometimes more than one at a time) for more than a decade. My own reputation has been called into question by the Claimant because his allegations have been published on a number of online locations (although I'm fairly confident that nobody whose opinion I much care about would be drawn in). It may come as no surprise to hear that the Claimant has been a litigant in person throughout.
So, thats £7k and three years of my life since this all began. I have to say the first year was awful. I had a tough time after the birth of my now almost 3 year old and was desperately trying to pay the mortgage by overworking and deal with constant correspondence from the Claimant, accusing me of this and that, copying me in on other complaints and claims, insinuating the conspiracy encompassed us all.
But ultimately he's run out of points to take (although I don't suppose that will stop him trying). And in the time he's been pursuing me I've made a beautiful 2 year old person with an obsession for wearing Mummy's shoes and handbags (bless him), and have a nice costs order in my pocket - which you can rest assured I will damn well pursue.
So, perhaps you can understand why that's something I needed to get off my chest. That has all been rumbling on in the background whilst I've built this blog, whilst I've been shortlisted for Family Law Awards 2 years running, whilst I established myself professionally in my new chambers and on the Western Circuit, whilst I tried to recover from maternity leave and a house move that coincided with the credit crunch, and whilst I wrote my book to assist litigants in person. I could have jacked in Pink Tape and all my crazy efforts to help those without the guidance of lawyers, but I'm glad I didn't. I'm proud of those achievements.
My clients used to ask me "Do you have children?". I didn't understand the significance of that question until I had children. They don't often ask me "Have you ever had to go to court yourself?" but I think I'm able to understand their experience all the better for it. So thank you Mr X. You've made be a better, wiser, more empathic lawyer and you've made me all the more determined not to be shut up.
NB Advance warning. For reasons which will be clear to anyone with a brain cell I am going to be fairly robust about comments on this particular blog post. Please don't be offended.
[UPDATE 12 FEBRUARY 2013 : Shortly after 10 October an application for permission to appeal was lodged with the Court of Appeal. It seems since then to have been languishing in a box marked "not one of the most important things". However, yesterday I received an order from the Court of Appeal confirming that the Claimants further application for permission to appeal the refusal to grant permission to seek judicial review of the refusal to grant permission to appeal against the original judgment of the county court *breathe* has been refused on paper as WHOLLY WITHOUT MERIT, NO PROSPECT OF SUCCESS and setting out that the Appellant does not have permission to seek an oral permission hearing, may not appeal further to the Supreme Court and has exhausted all domestic remedies. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. Whoop de do. I don't suppose that the blog dedicated to this particular piece of litigation run by the Claimant will be updated to include that part of the story so for the sake of completeness I mark it here.]