This is another in what turns out to be an occasional series of unregulated, unqualified ‘Evictions R Us’ outfits making catastrophic errors and costing their clients large amounts of money. You may recall Kassam v Gill & Gill, featuring ‘Remove a Tenant’. Now we have another example.
Ojo & Opaleye v McAuliffe, County Court at Bromley 6 February 2019.
Our grateful thanks to Counsel Rea Murray of 4-5 Grays Inn Square and Sioned Roberts of Hodge, Jones and Allen for the note of judgment.
This was a directions hearing in a possession claim, supposedly brought by Ojo & Opaleye. The tenant, Ms M, was defending on the basis of failure to comply with deposit protection regulations.
However, once Hodge, Jones and Allen were instructed as solicitors for the tenant, they began receiving correspondence from ‘Landlord Advice UK’ (website here and trust me, we are coming back to that website later). This set up described themselves as a non-SRA regulated “independent paralegal law firm”.
It appeared that Landlord Advice had prepared and served notices under s.8 and s.21 Housing Act 1988 and completed certificates of service. But then, the claim form gave Landlord Advice’s address as the address for service. Landlord Advice also purported to serve a bundle of documents on the defendant.
For the directions hearing, Landlord Advice instructed Jeffrey’s Solicitors to instruct a solicitor’s agent to represent the claimants, and then gave the defendant’s solicitors their (Landlord Advice) email address as the address for service of the defence.
At the hearing, the defendant argued that a non-SRA regulated firm had conduct of the litigation.
The firm had served documents and provided their address for service and appeared to be carrying out reserved legal activities without the proper entitlement under Part 3, Legal Services Act 2007. The Defendant’s solicitors were prevented from communicating with Landlord Advice UK because, on the advice of the SRA ethics helpline, that could constitute complicity in the unauthorised conduct of litigation. It was by extension unclear that the solicitor’s agent was able to exercise a right of audience under para 7, schedule 3, Legal Services Act 2007 since he was not instructed by and under the supervision of a solicitor with conduct of the litigation.
The defendant argued that the claim should be struck out.
The court found:
Landlord Advice appeared to have conduct of the litigation, with no right to do so.
As a result, the solicitor’s agent had no right of audience, as he was not under the supervision of a solicitor with conduct of the litigation.
The reply to the defence featured a statement of truth that was in a different font and on a separate page to the text of the reply, but in the absence of any evidence on this, no conclusions were drawn.
The order was that the claim was stayed for two months or until the claimants applied to lift the stay by providing an address for service. If no application was made within two months, the claim would be struck out with no further order, with the claimants to pay the defendant’s costs on an indemnity basis, and the defendant’s counterclaim proceeding.
Claimants to pay the defendant’s costs of the hearing in any event.
Once again, an unregulated, unqualified set-up conducting litigation, a reserved activity by way of section 14(1) Legal Services Act 2007 (and a criminal offence to do so if unqualified. Any interest, SRA?).
Service of documents and statements of case, and giving out their address for service is conducting litigation – Ndole Assets Ltd v Designer M&E Services UK Ltd  EWCA Civ 2865. A pity then that Landlord Advice include this, well, service in their possession claim fee.
Once again, a possession claim was put in severe jeopardy and a significant financial penalty in costs incurred for the set-up’s client.
The point about the other party’s solicitors not communicating with such a setup where they appear to be conducting litigation in order to avoid complicity in the unauthorised conduct – as recommended by the SRA ethics helpline – is sound. In any event, one could not communicate with them at all without express authority by their ‘client’ and one certainly couldn’t accept their address as an address for service.
Remarkably Landlord Advice’s website claims
Beyond that, they somehow claim they are ‘authorised’ by the MoJ and the Institute of Paralegals and ‘respected’ by BBC One.
But while taking a look at their site, another problem came to light.
Some of their blog posts are heavily copied from this site, with minimal alterations and no attribution whatsoever.
For example, this post of theirs is in large part a copy of this post of mine. And then this post of theirs is almost entirely a copy of this post of mine. (Screenshots taken, of course). Our copyright terms are clear:
Quotation or use of material from this blog and the RSS feed is on condition that:
- If it is for non-commercial use, the material is given an attribution to the individual author and to this blog and a link to this blog is made where possible.
- If it is for commercial use, or for use in a paid-for product, permission has previously been requested and obtained from the author. Permission should be requested by contacting the editor.
Landlord Advice simply haven’t complied and are passing this material off as their own. This does not end here.
So, not only are they conducting litigation when they have no right to, they have no respect for copyright.
Of course, the irony is that this infringement means that they read this blog, meaning they should have had sight of the post on Kassam v Gill & Gill from last August 2018. Yet they carried on with their negligent practices.
With our core values, dedication to our clients and expertise our clients can have the security they need that that their cases are handled with the skill required. (link)
I think not…
(*For younger readers, this is an MC Hammer reference. Don’t judge me.)