Gopee & Barons Finance. Return of the Mackie QC

The interim judgment in the Mercantile Court proceedings that gave rise to the Order I posted a few days ago has appeared on Bailli.

Barons Finance Ltd & Ors v Numerous Defendants [2014] EWHC 138 (QB)

There is quite simply too much to deal with in a post. It is a remarkable judgment and should be read. I have admired HHJ Mackie QC’s approach to the Gopee matters, trying to ensure that related cases were gathered, that the issues were kept clear, despite the best efforts of Mr Gopee, and reacting to developments acutely, appropriately and wholly within the Court’s powers. (Incidentally, the Mercantile Court seems to have settled on ‘Gopee’ rather than ‘Ghopee’. I had used ‘Ghopee’ as this was a) on documents I had seen and b) was how it was spelled on Companies House records, but whatever).

The main findings and upshot are as follows (paras 51-57):

First Mr Gopee asserts that I am prejudiced. I can understand why he has that impression but consider that he is mistaken. In Makanju I identified between paragraphs 14 and 22 a series of reasons apparently applicable in all these cases why the borrower had real prospects of showing that the lenders and their assignees could not recover the loans or enforce their security. At no point since I gave that judgment have the lenders shown any coherent reason why those provisional conclusions are not correct. There is at present no reason to believe that any of the loans which are or will be the subject of litigation are valid or enforceable, at least without leave from the OFT or the Court, or that the charges obtained and registered are valid either. Linked to this is the lack of any sign of any of the Claimants actively pursuing any of these claims on their merits or even suggesting that they have a prospect of success. Their position has simply been that existing judgments should not be disturbed. In the absence of further relevant evidence or legal argument, I have consistently taken the same view of the merits of this cases. In fact I look at each case on its merits and if there are grounds on which these loans can be shown to be lawful I am keen to learn what they are. I do not therefore consider that this objection to the Court having full knowledge or control of these cases is valid. Mr Gopee and his companies have a right to apply for permission to appeal which they exercise.

 

Secondly Mr Gopee has abused the legal process. He has used his position as a quasi litigant in person to fail to disclose important information about the legality of transactions he seeks to enforce, and of past decisions of the courts about them. If he had made proper disclosure it is unlikely that he would have obtained many of the judgments in the County Courts. He has abused the legal process in the other ways I have explained. I also have no reason to doubt what the Liquidator’s solicitors have said about Mr Gopee’s failure to disclose the litigation to their client.

 

Thirdly Mr Gopee has been relying on assignments to bring claims and secure charges in the names of companies other then Barons Finance Limited. Some assignments were, according to their face, entered into some time ago but the dates of some of these are challenged. Other assignments are dated very recently and obviously open to potential challenge by the Liquidator. The assignments, even if valid, may mislead other courts alert to the name of Barons but not to those of the assignees. Action under the assignments, whether by litigation or registration, is particularly distressing to the parties affected.

 

Fourthly there are more general concerns about the propriety of the Barons companies as the Tribunal decision referred to in Makanju explains. There is also now an investigation of various Barons companies being conducted under Section 447 of the Companies Act 1985.
Fifthly the Defendants and potential Defendants are vulnerable for the reasons I have given and in some cases at risk of losing their homes.

 

I will therefore order that any claim in any County Court which falls within the terms of my Order of 19 July, as amended, which has not been notified to this Court by close of business on Friday 28 February 2014 will be struck out, or on that date, transferred to this Court and struck out. Any future claim within the terms of the Order of 19 July not brought in this Court will be on issue be transferred to this Court and struck out. Any applications for relief will be heard in this Court, not the County Court.

So, absolutely any county court proceedings, active or dormant, in which Mr Gopee, through any of his companies, is dealing with anything relating to a loan made by Mr Gopee, or any of his companies, must be transferred, by Mr Gopee, to the Mercantile Court. If any proceedings are not included in a list to be provided by Mr Gopee by 28 February 2014, then they are automatically struck out, including any judgments (including possession orders) already obtained, on 7 March 2014.

A few choice part of the judgment:

In relation to an eviction procured by Mr Gopee on a case where an application for permission to appeal had been transferred to the Mercantile Court, but by error had ended up in front of a High Court Master.

I heard Mr Gopees’s explanation for this conduct both in November 2013 and again on 24 January 2014. He says that there was a misunderstanding, that the Defendants should have received a letter from the Court and that he was confused himself. I reject this account. Mr Gopee knew very well that the case should have gone to this Court and that there was an outstanding application for permission to appeal that had prospects of success and that the Defendants intended to pursue it.

 

The Ogunleyes have suffered a gross injustice as a result only of abuse of the Court process by Mr Gopee when representing one of his companies. No lawyer would have acted as Mr Gopee did. In general a company can only be represented at a court hearing by legal adviser having a right of audience. The company does not have the same right as an individual has to represent itself- see Civil Procedure 2013 Volume 2 13-7 at p2897. The Court may exercise its discretion to relax this rule. Different considerations arise at trial-see CPR39.6. In addition to the specific concerns in this case, the past record of Mr Gopee and his lack of candour referred to in other cases mentioned in this judgement are as I see it reasons for the Court to refuse to exercise its discretion. As I mentioned at the hearing on 24 January 2014 I was minded to refuse further permission to Mr Gopee to represent the Claimant company in this case. However Mr and Mrs Oguleye now have representation by Counsel and no party in any other case has objected to Mr Gopee’s role. I will not therefore take the point further at this stage.

 

I emphasise that when he appears in court Mr Gopee is invariably courteous and his submissions are brief and to the point. I do not suggest that he is intellectually not up to the task of representing the company. My concern is with the apparent lack of integrity surrounding his approach to some of these cases.

On Mr Gopee continuing to pursue proceedings in the County Court and issue fresh ones when ordered to transfer them to the Mercantile Court:

On 19 December 2013 the Court refused to make an order on paper when Mr Gopee applied to add one of his companies to a claim by Barons Finance Limited against Mr Thompson. I said that the application required a hearing at which all parties had an opportunity to participate. The application is based upon an alleged assignment for nominal consideration purportedly made only a short time before the assignor went into liquidation. Mr Gopee must have known that any such application would be opposed by the Liquidator.

 

No application has been made for a hearing by Mr Gopee. On 17 January 2014 Mr Thompson applied for permission to appeal out of time. I granted that application and gave further directions which permit the Liquidator to apply to vary these.

 

In the course of Mr Thompson’s application it emerged that Pangold Estate Limited had brought an action in the Romford County Court (3PB69022) against the current ‘tenant’ of the property charged to secure Mr Thompson’s original loan from Barons Finance Limited. It seems that Barons Finance Limited secured possession and Mr Gopee then somehow let the property in the name of Pangold. Mr Thompson contends that the ‘tenant’ is required to make payment to Mr Gopee personally. It would appear that the right to let the property belongs either to Barons Finance Limited, the company in liquidation, or to Mr Thompson. The Romford County Court has now transferred this case to this Court.

And

It appears that the transferred Romford case may be only one of many county court claims for ‘rent’ of this kind or for other relief relating to one or other aspect of past loans. It is arguable that Mr Gopee and his companies are already obliged to bring these cases in this Court or to transfer in existing cases under the 19 July Order as being “arising out of or in connection with any loan”. To avoid further misunderstanding however I will vary the Order to make this clear by adding, after the word “loan” “or any proceeding relating in any way whatsoever to any such loan or such property (including without limitation any dealing with or use of such property and whether brought against the borrower, tenant, occupier or anyone else)”.

On the background to the cases:

“This is one of a collection of cases from county courts in the Greater London area, which I will call the “Barons cases”, which have been sent to the London Mercantile Court to coordinate. The cases involve claims and appeals arising from loans made by Barons and companies associated with it including Reddy Corporation Limited and Ghana Commercial Bunks (sic). Sometimes, as a result of clerical errors, other similar names are used. The loans were generally made to people who have arrived in this country quite recently and are under severe financial pressure, at high rates of interest usually secured by charges on the borrowers’ homes. In some of the cases, but not this one, there is an intermediary between Barons and the borrower whose role has been controversial. In most cases the Defendants now seek to set aside or appeal against orders obtained some years ago. These Defendants generally claim that they entered into the loans under severe financial and personal pressures and have only recently learned of the legal grounds upon which the original judgments, often obtained by default or after only perfunctory resistance, may be challenged. The Defendants often say that they were unaware of their legal rights when entering into the transaction in dispute.
The Claimant is usually represented by its director Mr Gopee, a quasi litigant in person of great experience but sometimes by Counsel. The Defendants often represent themselves. Those retaining lawyers often do so only sporadically. The lawyers, operating on a shoestring, sometimes lack full instructions on the facts and, as a result, the legal issues.”

And on Mr Gopee’s conduct:

The relevant background includes the established and lengthy record of incompetence, impropriety, lack of integrity and abuse of the rights of consumers shown by Mr Gopee and his companies.

There is so much more in the judgment, but here we are. The Land Registry is aware that no transfers involving Gopee companies should be entered. The OFT is being mostly completely useless (‘working in a multi-agency approach’), but the Birmingham based Illegal Money Lending Team are engaged and may be more active. The Liquidator of Barons Finance is getting up to speed on the purported assignment of the debt book of Barons Finance.

The important thing for anyone, whether defendant (or ‘borrower’) of Gopee, any adviser, solicitor or County Court officer or Judge, to be aware of is that any attempt to continue proceedings or bring new proceedings in relation to a loan by Mr Gopee under the guise of any of his companies, without the express permission of the Mercantile Court, is prevented by the Order of HHJ Mackie QC and would be a breach of the order by Mr Gopee. There is a penal notice attached to the order.

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Housing law - All, Mortgage possession.

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