Pass me down the wine

The number of letters published in The Guardian on the topic of the law on squatting has now reached two and can therefore be fairly described as an “exchange”.

We have already noted Mike Weatherley MP’s letter to The Guardian and I urge you all to read that post. It is a sensitive, sensible, passionate and highly informed piece of writing. What follows is almost certainly not. It should only be considered for a bit of weekend light relief, probably with a glass, or more, of wine to hand – it was certainly written that way.

With that caveat, our starting point has to be the letter published at the start of the week (although as NL pointed out on Twitter last night, Mr Weatherley has some form for this sort of thing – careful now – so you may wish to revisit that post too). It may be worth re-reading, although I can make things a little bit easier by exclusively revealing the leaked early draft that I think Mr Weatherley must actually be responding to:

Dear Gruaniad,

Them squatters is all ok, leave them alone. Itz good that they trick stoopid homeowners out of there homes, they deserve it for never needing expensive legal advice. The currant law is bang on right, coz we get lots and lots of luvverly money out of it.

[Note: get a trainee or a pupil to stick in some stuff about what the law actually is. I don’t really care, I just make it up and use long words like hithertotherebefore and then send the bill to the LSC]

Lots of love,

[then do that thing when you get someone to sign a blank piece of paper and then put this letter in above it, that way loads of fools will agree]

Which, I think you’ll agree, is pretty similar to the final version. Mr Weatherley was clearly a bit upset by this intervention by people who have a vague idea of what they’re talking about, which prompted his letter.


I am glad that my campaign to criminalise squatting has prompted 160 lawyers to write in.


It’s endearingly sweet of him to think that it is his campaign that prompted the letter. While it was clearly a concern, as anyone who has read the letter will be aware it certainly wasn’t the prompt. If I’m honest, Mike (if I may be so bold) I had to google your name to make sure it was spelt correctly. That’s right Mike, that’s how obsessed with your campaign I am. I’m crazy. I’m on the edge.


The self-proclaimed experts who signed the letter


Now, 158 academics, solicitors and barristers signed that letter (disclosure: I was one of them). That’s 157 experts (+ me). Who, as the letter points out, practise in housing law. They’re not “self-proclaimed experts”. They are the actual, honest to goodness, experts. I will admit that some of them are fond of letting people know just how much of an expert they are, but still. And, anyway, as they go on to demonstrate, they actually know what the law is.


sheep-like


Note here how he sets his stall out early. Those lawyers who signed the letter merely did so because they acted like sheep. Ah, how enlightening. Clearly the position now is that anytime a group of people all agree to the same thing they are only doing so because their limited ovine like intelligence doesn’t permit them to think or act independently. That is why all litigation is settled by consent (Lawyer 1: I think we should settle this on these terms. Lawyer 2: I’m a lawyer and you’re a lawyer, so if you think that’s ok then I have to agree. Lawyer 1: Baa baa. Lawyer 2: Baa baa). So henceforth we shall know that every time an open letter is published in the papers signed by a collective of economists, doctors, etc, the only reason that it obtained more than one measly signature is the sheep effect. Of course, this must presumably extend to every time more than one person does the same thing at the same time. It will be interesting to see what Mr Weatherley’s voting record in the Commons is like. One hopes that he doesn’t “sheep-like” simply vote the same as other people all the time, but manages to find a way to record his truly individual take on matters (Ayes: 321, Nays: 280, Quijibo: 1 (M Weatherley)).


have a huge vested interest when it comes to fees after all.


Perhaps we’re getting to the crux of the matter here. Of course, we’re only interested in this because of our fat cat lawyer fees. Suck on that you academic signatories in your ivory towers, smoking piles of legal aid money while you swill red wine over undergraduate essays to make it look like you actually read them before marking them. You know that you only agreed with this because of your vested interests.


They are dangerously out of touch with the real world if they think that the arrest of somebody who will not leave is a satisfactory outcome.


Not sure that we said that it would necessarily be a satisfactory outcome. After all a crime will have taken place. Nobody says that arresting someone for any other crime is automatically a satisfactory outcome. It is, however, an outcome and will allow the occupier to get back into their property. Which, presumably, is where we want to get to, no?


Squatters should be instantly arrested for being there at all.


And as if by magic, the shopkeeper the police appeared. Instantly. Then this sorry scene plays out -

Homeowner (it’s always homeowners, never tenants, hmm): Officer, arrest these hippies now. They’re squatting.
PC Dibble: Certainly sir, as you have asked them to leave and they have refused, I’d be happy to -
Homeowner: What do you mean, asked them to leave? I haven’t asked them.
PC Dibble: Ah, well if you could just ask them while I stand here.
Homeowner: There’s no time man. That could take days. Shouldn’t you be out catching murderers anyway?

These lawyers also have a huge gap in their practical knowledge if they think an average person is physically equipped to take on a gang of squatters.


Thanks Mike, I’d never have thought of that, even though Lord Denning in McPhail and Lady Hale in Meier already say that about self help. If only there was some sort of civil force that was responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order that could intervene and come to the rescue of the “average person”.


The police will not assist with an eviction in most cases without the backing of a magistrate’s order.


Oh, I see. The police won’t help. I’m going to need a bit of help with that whole “magistrate’s order” thing though. Anyway, where’s your evidence base for this? Always show your workings out, that way even if you get the wrong answer you’ll still get half marks anyway.


This takes sometimes a few hours, sometimes it’s the next day.

WHAT MIGHT?


In the meantime, the unlawful occupiers will have been damaging your home, using your electricity, drinking your wine and sleeping in your beds.


Heavens to Murgatroyd, thank goodness he managed to eat his porridge before they got there. At least we know what this is really all about. Won’t somebody please think of the wine? (“Honey, I think the children may be left in there with those eastern Europeans”, “Oh my God, the 1990 Ruchottes-Chambertin, I left it in plain sight!”). Mike’s right about one thing though, it really is an outrage that they could spend all that time, in your home, doing those things and still won’t have managed to commit a single offence. Not one.


The police should be able to act immediately. Squatters need the threat of a criminal conviction to stop them.


Good grief. See above.


If any of those who signed the letter doubt this, then let me throw down the gauntlet – vacate your house for a few days and advertise its emptiness on the appropriate squatter sites. We will see how quickly you can get them out and just how distressed you are at the lack of justice.


I’m not rising to the ridiculously juvenile aspect of this, it’s beyond parody. Nice try though, trying to trick me into inciting criminal activity. You nearly had me for a second.


Maybe then you will think twice before defending squatters.


Right, got it. Hold me to your collective bosom, squatters, I’m with you, I am one, I am home. It’s not my home, it’s their home and I’m welcome no more, but still I’m here now, so pass us the claret. Again, Mike nicely bodyswerves the thrust of our letter. David’s earlier post has already dealt with the realities of squatting, so I won’t dwell on that. I do look forward to Mike’s proposals for reforming the Bar’s cab-rank rule though, which logically must follow on.


It’s no wonder that the public have lost faith in our legal system.


Again, some evidence would be nice, but I think the first letter demonstrates what is going wrong in terms of the public perception of this aspect of the legal system. Take a bow, Mike.

Just to be clear, and I’ll use simple words as much as possible, I am not saying that the current law is perfect, nor am I saying that it is an absolute joy, an unrivalled delight, to come home from holiday or simply popping to the shops for 20 Rothmans and find that you can no longer get into your own home. Quite obviously, that sucks. Big time. While I do have my doubts about just how frequently this happens and would love to see Mike’s evidence (sorry to stress that, but evidence is a good foundation for making policy), I do not for even a fraction of a second doubt that it’s bloomin’ awful when it happens to you.

It may well also be true that the police do not always respond in the most appropriate fashion. But the answer to that is better training, better education and ultimately better enforcement of the existing law. You might like to start a campaign for proper enforcement of the law on unlawful eviction while you’re at it.

What I am saying, and what the 157 experts that I co-signed with are saying, is that politicians and the press keep on misstating the current law. This much is clear from a quick compare-and-contrast between the nonsense frequently spouted and the guidance issued by the DCLG (that’s your government, Mike). If there is to be a change in the law, and perhaps there should be, let’s have a rational and informed debate about that.

So here’s a challenge Mike. A proper one.

  • Tell us what the factual errors in our letter are;
  • Show (you can use pictures if you like) that you know what the existing law is;
  • Explain how your proposals will improve upon the existing law with a properly worked example of a scenario where the current law leads to injustice (bonus marks for an evidence base that shows how often this would happen).

Drinking your wine though. Drinking your wine. Oh, the inhumanity.

p5rn7vb
Posted in FLW article, Housing law - All and tagged , .

About chief

chief is a barrister in the big city. he specialises in public law, landlord & tenant, football and rock 'n' roll (the last two are only when his clerks aren't watching). he sometimes pops by here, but not as often as he'd like. he will occasionally eschew capital letters. the reasons for this odd affectation are lost in the mists of time.

22 Comments

  1. I demand to know, from Mr Weatherley, how to get one of those Magistrates’ orders. I guess he got some expert advice on that before putting pen to paper – I’m sure he wouldn’t dare have plunged in ignorantly, like the very people The 158 were complaining about.

    I actually checked that this man exists – he does. I can only sensibly conclude that his letter in today’s Guardian must have been written by a political enemy of his, as it more than verges on doltish self-parody.

  2. Chief

    How dare you be better than me at this?

    I must add that the sole accusation directed at Mike Weatherley MP in the mass letter was that he had misrepresented the current law in a newspaper article by stating that the police had no powers to deal with a ‘squatter’ in soneone’s home. It appears that Mr Weatherley has tacitly conceded that we were entirely right about that, as his letter is about the failure of the police to enforce the current law. Whether or not that ‘revised’ argument is true – and evidence is lacking – it is notable that Mr Weatherley MP does not feel the need to apologise to the public for misleading them, or indeed to even acknowledge that he was spouting as fact a version of the law that was, as the letter put it, simply wrong.

    One may feel – as I do – that elected representatives owe a duty to both their constituents and the public at large to correct any misapprehension they may have given and, as legislators, to actually understand the law that they are sounding off about. Sadly, it appears Mr Weatherley and I have quite different expectations and understandings of the role of an MP and legislator.

    It is also, from the same perspective, disappointing to see a supposedly rational MP who can only understand any criticism of his – and let’s be kind here – intellectually challenged view of the law as consisting of ‘defending squatters’. If I was the kind of person who indulged in amateur psychology, I would suspect adequacy issues. But I’m not, so I don’t.

    Now, what the hell is a ‘Magistrates Order’? Is this some knowledge of the legal system that Mr Weatherley picked up in the saloon bar of a Hove pub? Clearly a saloon bar pal trumps ‘self proclaimed experts’ (although I’m not sure that you can describe professors and a QC as being ‘self proclaimed’. I’m also not sure where that leaves Mr Weatherley, unless it is as a self proclaimed non expert? He has certainly demonstrated his credentials).

    I suppose I must declare my interest, as being lawyer who charges for my services. I have, on rare occasions, received fees in relation to possession proceedings against trespassers. I am generally confident that the complete disappearance of such cases wouldn’t trouble me in terms of my fee income. If there was a change in the law, I would probably see an increase in fees for a while as existing clients sought advice. So, basically, I don’t care – at least in terms of my fee income – what happens to the law. But of course, that isn’t really Mr Weatherley’s concern. He has been called out on being either ignorant or knowingly misrepresenting the law and has chosen to use the most hackneyed rhetorical device that he could lay his hands on in response.

    Finally, with apologies to ‘I can haz cheezburger':

    weatherley cheeseburger

  3. “…but evidence is a good foundation for making policy”

    Evidenced-based policy from this government, you cannot be serious!

    Does this prove the legal profession live in those Ivory Towers?

    PS – Drinkin ur winez or whinez?

  4. On a closer look, it would appear that Mike Weatherley MP doesn’t actually have a problem with self-interested advocacy, at least not when it is him doing it.

    He is a director of Motion Picture Licensing Co Ltd and subsidiary companies. He receives £2500 – £4500 per month pay from those companies for 6-8 hours work. As a director, he has a duty to maximise value to the shareholders.

    One of Mr Weatherley’s primary activities in Parliament, according to http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/mike_weatherley/hove , is to pursue tighter IP controls. One can only presume that tighter IP controls would be of direct benefit to a film & video licensing company.

    Hypocrisy? Most unbecoming.

  5. Pingback: An apology please, we should be so lucky! « Painsmith Landlord and Tenant Blog

  6. Oh and if anyone is wondering about the source of stuff the letter quoted Weatherley as saying on the police/homeowner having no powers to through out squatters, it is here:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2034530/Make-squatters-criminals-let-Englishmans-home-castle-again.html

    And I mention this now because it may be the first sighting in the wild of Weatherley’s wine fetish.

    If Mr Weatherley wants to defend his clearly expressed and wholly inaccurate statements on the current law, ‘pernicious loopholes’ and all, he is welcome.

    • It’s the comments that are worrying. Although I try and remember this is confirmation bais. I wonder why we never see links to judgments in these articals.

      anyway reminded me of a Yes Prime Minister quote:

      Hacker: Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country; The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; The Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; And The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
      Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
      Bernard: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.

      • Oh and of course this is about right too:

        Bernard: But surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know.
        Sir Humphrey Appleby: No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity.

  7. I signed the letter. Not sure I even read it before signing. As a lawyer, I don’t think anything particularly problematic has happened before when someone has signed something without reading so figured it would be fine. However, I now feel I have been duped as nobody mentioned my wine! I am now training my dog to protect my wine supply at all costs in the event that squatters move in. Further, any squatters playing “thumping dance music” should probably be prosecuted by the music police. Baa

  8. I have read all this with bemusement. If Mr. Weatherley MP is wrong about the situation – not about the law, it is the situation that matters – then why not just say so politely, which the scorriation, the personal abuse?

    The hole in the lawyers’ emotional defence, it seems to me, is exposed by NL’s admission, “I have, on rare occasions, received fees in relation to possession proceedings against trespassers.”

    If the law and the situation are satisfactory, why have his clients had to take civil legal action to get trespassers out?

    The lawyers ask the MP for evidence, but they supply none to support their defence. How many incidents of squatting have there been in London,and in UK, over the past year and in how many of them have the police acted to get the squatters out and how quickly on average?

    Without statistical evidence like that, both sides are guilty of hot air pontification.

    • Peter,

      If you read the original letter, the one to which Mr Weatherley responded, you will see that the 158 did indeed politely point out that Mr Weatherley was in error in what he said about the current law. Mr Weatherley chose to respond in the manner described above.

      As to the situation – I agree that any proposed changes should be based upon evidence. Which is why the completely evidence free rhetoric of Mr Weatherley (and indeed others) in support of proposed changes is simply not enough. It is for those claiming that the current law isn’t adequate to make their case.

      You will note that various commenters have made the point that in their experience (and these are housing law professionals) squatting of a home is extremely rare. That – in the absence of any centrally supplied statistics – is the evidence.

      And if you pause for a moment and reflect, it is clear that it would be impossible to get evidence if the current law was indeed working satisfactorily. DRO or PIO tells squatters to leave, squatters leave. No involvement of police, courts or anyone else that would leave a statistical trail. But that aside, the MoJ and DCLG don’t have statistics for anything except the numbers of possession claims against trespassers in the civil courts and these are not (and cannot be) broken down into trespasses to home and trespass to vacant property cases. The very consultation asks for people’s evidence (and anecdotal experience) about the extent of the problem.

      As to my involvement in civil legal action, that has exclusively been in relation to vacant property. I have not had a single trespass to home case. So I’m afraid that is not the smoking gun you appear to believe it is. Quite the reverse.

      But this is by the by. The central question – which is what this is all about – is whether you consider it acceptable for Ministers and MPs, as well as newspapers, to either be ignorant of the very law they propose to change, or to consistently misrepresent it. You will note that Mr Weatherley prefers not to address that point, which was the entire thrust of the original letter.

  9. I’m just preparing for my first classes of the new academic year, reading Martin Partington’s Introduction to Law at pp 18-19. He puts it really well so it’s worth quoting:
    “Only rarely do politicians conceded that there may be enough law, and that what is needed is better understanding of or enforcement of existing law. … Indeed whole careers are devoted to the promotion of legislation allegedly designed to address particular social issues – even if, as so often happens, there is already perfectly satisfactory law already available, or where changing the law is not really a solution to the problem. …
    On obvious consequence of creating legal provisions to solve problems is that people – ever mindful of their self-interest – respond to new legal frameworks in ways not predicted by the law makers. … A hidden but often inevitable consequence of using law to solve social problems is, therefore, that the very process of creating new law results not in the solution of existing social problems but rather in the creation of new social problems. The process of dealing with one issue leads to the creation of another, which in turn has to be ‘solved’ later.”
    Damn those lefty academics in their ivory towers.
    Baa

  10. are we going to send a letter to theresa may now, given her unfortunate inability to work out that the european convention on human rights has little to do with cats? being as they aren’t human, that is.

    • The extremely depressing thing about a lot of the media comment and in particular the remarks made by May’s team is that the most important point – that human rights had nothing to do with the case – is being missed by most people. Channel 4 news missed the point for instance. Article 8 never entered into it.

      Sigh.

      • I second that.

        I think there should be a campaign by lawyer to get papers etc. to link to the judgment on websites and give full case name and refrence in printed form.

        We’re not going to stop the misreporting of cases, but we might just get people to look at the actual case after the reporting.

  11. What concerns me about all this is Mr Weatherley’s meta-ethics:

    ‘They are dangerously out of touch with the real world if they think that the arrest of somebody who will not leave is a satisfactory outcome.’

    The implication that one’s judgment of ‘satisfactoriness’ – a normative concept – depends on whether one is in ‘touch with the real world’ seems to me to suggest that the Hon member for Hove believes in ethical values as platonic entities which can be directly perceived by some mysterious human capacity. Such metaphysical naivite is not, in my opinion, becoming of a member of Parliament.

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