EXCLUSIVE: Wirral Borough Council v Kane & Woodley (a case about Fernbank Farm)
I was at Birkenhead County Court for an application hearing in the case of Wirral Borough Council v Kane and Woodley heard in front of Deputy District Judge Grosscurth starting at 3pm.
Kane and Woodley are the defendants in the case where Wirral Council is seeking a possession order for Fernbank Farm. Although the defendants had previously been represented earlier in the case by Kirwans, they were no longer represented by Kirwans and had chosen Cllr Ian Lewis to represent them.
Representing Wirral Council was a man called Ali Noman Bayatti (who is a solicitor working for Wirral Council). I refer to him by the party he was representing (Wirral Council).
In the minutes before the case was heard Wirral Council made an offer to the defendants to agree to a possession order which wouldn’t be implemented for a further eighteen months. However the defendants rejected this offer.
The defendants and Wirral Council went to the Judge’s chambers first for a few minutes. Then the press and some other interested parties (who were not parties to the case but were interested in its outcome) were invited into the Judge’s Chamber.
There were less seats than people so a number of people had to stand. Deputy District Judge Grosscurth started by saying that they were “limited on seats”. Deputy District Judge Grosscurth said he no objections to Cllr Ian Lewis speaking during the case, he asked if the form had been signed? Cllr Ian Lewis said it required the defendants’ signatures. The defendants signed the form. The Deputy District Judge pointed out that Cllr Ian Lewis would speak for both defendants (Kane and Woodley).
Deputy District Judge Grosscurth said that he had a “couple of items to tidy up” which dated back to an order made in September to do with permission to change a defence. Cllr Ian Lewis explained that the defendants had previously been represented by Kirwans but that as costs had spiralled this had led to the defendants dispensing with Kirwans’ services as their legal representative.
Deputy District Judge Grosscurth asked if they intended to submit an amended defence? Cllr Ian Lewis said that their intention was to engage a different solicitor to do so or do it themselves. Deputy District Judge Grosscurth pointed out that they were supposed to file by the 21st August and that it would look like an extension.
Wirral Council said that there had been an application for a further extension to the date for the provision of a defence. Deputy District Judge Grosscurth said he had not seen it. He referred to an order of a different judge and the fact that it should have been filed no later than the 14th October which had now expired. He said that the application to further extend the date for the provision of a defence referred to by Wirral Council was not in the case file.
Wirral Council said, “I might be mistaken” and gave their agreement as long as it didn’t delay things too much. Wirral Council referred to the overriding principles in the Civil Procedure Rules and said that the case needed to move ahead.
Deputy District Judge Grosscurth said he would not alter the draft, but that since the 1st April that the time limits had been tightened up. He pointed out that everybody was deemed to know the law and the rules that guide all cases. He referred to a recent Court of Appeal case and said that the needs of litigants-in-person can be accommodated but that the Court couldn’t rewrite the rule book. He asked if Wirral Council had any further objections. Wirral Council answered “No”.
Deputy District Judge Grosscurth said that he would agree to extending the time for filing an amended defence. His next point was that he gathered the three people present (apart from the press, parties to the case and Cllr Ian Lewis) were users of the stable land but not technically parties to the hearing, just observers. He said to them to appreciate that they had “nothing to do with this matter” as the Council had made an application for possession of the land and it was up to them how they dealt with “your issues”.
Deputy District Judge Grosscurth said that he looking for an “early trial” and asked how long they expected it to take? Wirral Council replied that they had filed a witness statement of a David Dickenson, but that they might add a supplementary statement. Deputy District Judge Grosscurth asked how many witness statements the defendants would be submitting? Cllr Ian Lewis answered, “Three, Sir.”
Deputy District Judge Grosscurth pointed out that the Civil Procedure Rules were on the internet and that the defendants and Cllr Lewis could search for them in Google. He pointed that that the Civil Procedure Rules stated the form that witness statements should take and they needed to also include a statement of truth and that they would have to “look into that”. He asked how much time they would need to get prepared and serve their witness statements?
One of the two defendants asked if they could use the ones prepared by Kirwans? Cllr Ian Lewis answered (to Deputy District Judge Grosscurth’s question) three weeks. Deputy District Judge Grosscurth said that he couldn’t see there being many documents. Wirral Council answered that he didn’t think there were any relevant documents to be disclosed apart from the witness statements.
Deputy District Judge Grosscurth said he they should include in the witness statements anything they wish to rely on. If there was extra information brought up at the final hearing then it would either be ignored or the case would be adjourned (with costs awarded to Wirral Council if the case was deferred because of the defendants). He said he was ever conscious with litigants in person that there were no outstanding issues and that the person hearing the case would “not be ambushed”. Deputy District Judge Grosscurth asked for any documents to be included in the witness statements. He asked if there were any points to be raised?
One of the two defendants said that they had not received any correspondence from Wirral Council since July 2012 except for something last August. Deputy District Judge Grosscurth said that he would include in Mr. Dickenson’s statement as it was relevant. He said any documentation has “got to be disclosed” and under the rules of disclosure they had to disclose everything whether it was in favour of their case or not.
Wirral Council asked for standard disclosure.
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