Homeowner wins legal fight over 'Kafkaesque' court hearing

File photo dated 15/09/14 of the Royal Courts of Justice in London, as a terminally ill 14-year-old

Dr Paling took his case to the Administrative Court at the Royal Courts of Justice - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A Suffolk homeowner has successfully challenged the fairness of a 'Kafkaesque' court hearing in which he was unable to hear the evidence of a softly-spoken witness.

The hearing at Suffolk Magistrates' Court involved Dr Denis Paling's application to quash liability orders on a rental property in Great Bricett, near Wattisham, in November 2019. 

Dr Paling challenged the fairness of the hearing, claiming he was unable to hear what was said by a revenues officer for Mid Suffolk District Council and was refused permission to make oral submissions in addition to a 10-page synopsis handed to the court.

Dr Paling took his case to the High Court, likening the original hearing to Franz Kafka's novel The Trial, involving the prosecution of a banker, for an unknown crime, by a remote, inaccessible and unspecified court system.

Deputy High Court Judge David Pittaway QC said he was concerned only with the fairness of the hearing, not the nature of the dispute, which resulted in the dismissal of Dr Paling's application for two liability orders to be set aside.

Dr Paling's barrister, Farhan Asghar, said his 76-year-old client had been unable to hear the council's softly-spoken witness, who stood about 20 feet away and addressed his remarks solely towards the bench.

Mr Asghar said Dr Paling was then refused permission to make oral submissions to supplement his 10-page synopsis.

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On behalf of the council, Christopher Jacobs said it was clear from the notes of the revenues officer and the court's legal adviser that Dr Paling had failed to raise matters until after the hearing. 

He said the legal adviser's memo attributed no merit to the assertion that he was prevented from addressing the court.

The judge said it was clear from Dr Paling's 10-page synopsis that he understood the case against him, but that notes from the witness and legal adviser had not responded directly to the allegation that he was unable to hear and not given the opportunity to make closing submissions.

"Standing back and reaching an independent view, I have concluded that the claim for judicial review succeeds," he concluded, ruling that the application to quash the liability orders should be remitted to the magistrates' court.

"In my view, on the basis of the Claimant's evidence, which I accept, a fair minded and informed observer would conclude in this case that justice had not been seen to be done."

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