About this blog

Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Monday 31 October 2016


I'll get you judging. Impress the family, friends and your newsagent by becoming a magistrate. Here's where there are now or are about to be vacancies for beak activity (and if you don't live in the catchment area then you'll just have to move) - 
Kent - at least 35 magistrates needed with applications accepted as from tomorrow
North West London and West London - 48 and 22 respectively are required with applications opening on 1 December 2016
Norfolk and Suffolk - around 14 required in each county and currently recruiting

If you have been shoplifting recently, you need not apply. More (on applying, not shoplifting) at www.gov.uk


One in every 515 of adults in England and Wales became insolvent in the 12 months to the end of last September. Figures released on Friday revealed not only this but that in the last quarter, the number of individuals themselves asking to be made bankrupt went up over the previous quarter and the number of creditors asking for their debtors to be made bankrupt went down. 

No surprises here. Individuals have been encouraged to seek bankruptcy themselves as it's now done on line with the requirement for court attendance being rare and the fees for applying can be paid by instalments. And creditors are now frustrated when it comes to bankruptcy if they are owed less than £5,000. That's because bankruptcy proceedings by a creditor - they remain in court and not on line - can only be started if the outstanding debt is for at least £5,000. The canny individual will keep his liability down to £4,999.99.

For much more, see Breaking Law at chapter 35.

Thursday 27 October 2016


It's been a busy day as I have continued to test the consumer laws for you. 

First, into M&S. I had bought three pairs of trousers there the other week believing I would qualify for a Sparks Card 20% discount but the till wasn't having it.  Shops can get into difficulty in this sort of territory leading to a possible allegation of an offence and a civil claim (see Breaking Law at chapter 40). I bought the trousers at the non-discounted price and then made an on line customer service complaint. Perfectly efficient and fast response: go into local store and they will sort it out. And that's where I went today and I got my refund within ten minutes and waived any demand for out of pocket expenses. The alarm sounded as I left through the front exit but no attempt was made to detain me so that's a false imprisonment claim I've missed out on (see Breaking Law at chapter 37). 

Next to Holland & Barrett to return a bag of dried fruit and nuts because the nuts were soft. I was within the 30 days allowed by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 to make a short-term rejection (see Breaking Law at page 39). You have to sock it the shop that you are rejecting. Smiling, I handed the packet to the manager and said I was making a return and why. He was a delight. A refund in record time.

Then confirmation from HP that a refund and two ink cartridges were on their way in settlement of my claim. Eh? This one has been more difficult. I had bought an HP printer which was defective. The seller took it back and I replaced it with an upgraded model. In the meantime I had ordered a supply of cartridges from HP which were compatible with the returned printer but not the replacement printer. I wanted my money back for the cartridges for which I had no use. Strictly, that was a claim against the seller but I thought it would be more expedient to direct it to HP.  They wanted proof of purchase of the cartridges (from the company which had since become an associate company due to some restructuring) but I had not been supplied with an invoice. HP was becoming difficult on this issue though at the same time signing off with "warm regards" no less (which is as friendly as I have ever got with anyone from a customer services department). So, this was my next email.

Subject: Re: HP [ ref:_00DG0h8qk._50027maJgb:ref ]
Date: 8 September 2016 12:53:29 BST
To: HP Support 

I have now blown a fuse and I fear that a gasket blow is imminent.

You are asking for proof of purchase.  I have sent you a copy of the dispatch note issued by your associate company. That I have been able to send you the copy would suggest, would it not, that I hold the original and, if I hold the original ,would that not suggest that the original came with the goods and, if the original came with the goods, would that not suggest that the goods were supplied to me and, if the goods were supplied to me, would that not suggest that I paid for them or do you suppose that your associate company decided to give away cartridges for free because they liked me although they had never met me or communicated with me before?

For the third time, would you give me an answer — preferably, a straight one- to the straight question you have so far ignored twice, namely what are your proposals for  redress for the inconvenience I have suffered and time I have wasted on this matter. Claim getting even bigger.

Regards (not too warm at the moment)
Stephen Gold

The recipient referred the dispute to six other persons in her organisation calling me difficult (me??!!) and unwisely copied me in on the email which I fancy helped with further negotiations. It is now conceded I can have a refund in full and, for my trouble, two cartridges (one was offered and I counter-offered two).

Claims for inconvenience where a contract has been broken may not be easy according to the strict letter of the law (see Breaking Law, chapter 24).

The end of a perfect day. Sleep tight. 

Wednesday 26 October 2016


Very often the county court will order a tenant out of their home but suspend - halt - the order, especially where the landlord is a social landlord such as the local council or a housing association. So the order may say that the tenant is to go by a fixed date but that the order is to be suspended so long as they pay rent arrears by specified instalments or, where there has been anti-social behaviour, so long as they do not make a nuisance of themselves for a given period.

What happens if the condition of the suspension is broken in that, for example, the tenant fails to pay the arrears instalments or plays punk music at a high volume from 1am until 6pm? The view has been taken that, in this situation, the landlord could apply to the court for the bailiff to go in without the matter coming back before a judge. But procedural rules on this were changed in 2014 and the changes have been largely overlooked.

The Court of Appeal has just ruled that under the new rules, the landlord needs the permission of a judge before asking for the bailiff to evict. It is not essential for there to be a further hearing to decide whether permission should be granted but there must be some judicial scrutiny.

This ruling will have considerable impact. If the bailiff is coming to evict under an order which was originally suspended and the landlord has not obtained prior permission to send them in, the court may cancel the bailiff's authority to evict and the landlord will have to seek judicial permission which they should have done in the first place. And if the tenant has already been evicted without that judicial scrutiny, they may be able to successfully apply for the authority under which they were evicted to be set aside and to be allowed back into the property. They could then argue against the landlord's second attempt to have them evicted. The court does have discretion to overlook the procedural breach. The Court of Appeal indicated that it might well not do so where the landlord could not show they had made genuine mistake about the procedure to be followed. A tenant who was without legal advice when evicted might also be able to persuade the court not to overlook.   

Tuesday 25 October 2016


They've been threatened for a long time and now they have arrived - today. The Insolvency (England and Wales) Rules 2016. But before you get carried away by excitement, I have to tell you that they will not be  coming into force until 6 April 2017. 

To be turned on by the new rules, you really need to be a lawyer, insolvency practitioner, official receiver, planning to go down the financial pan, very boring or devoid of a television set. They consolidate the Insolvency Rules 2016 and a cool set of 28 pieces of legislation which amended them. But they do much more. They restructure, take account of modern methods of communication and update language. One of my favourite changes - small but I love it - is to allow anyone owed less than £1,000 to be paid a dividend out of the assets of a liquidated company or a bankrupt individual without having to make a formal claim. 

Monday 24 October 2016


"Do you accept that I am a truthful person?"
"Then, as a truthful person, I am telling you that I bought these defective goods from this branch on 17 October 2016 for £20.16 and paid cash."
"I am sorry sir, but company policy is that we must have a receipt."
"Then company policy is wrong and silly. Do you really want me to leave the goods here, go away, issue a county court claim on line and ask the court to award me £20.16, interest on that sum from 17 October 2016 until I obtain judgment at the rate of 8%, my travelling and out of pocket expenses for coming in today and any expenses for trying to source replacement goods plus interest and court fees? Such a waste."
"Could you just hold in and I'll talk to my manager?"

I have had that conversation. It has done the trick. If there is nothing wrong with the goods and you are seeking to take advantage of the shop's scheme for return simply because you have changed your mind or your spouse has told you that you look hideous in the jacket, then you have to play according to the shop's rules. And if they say that a receipt is required for a refund, exchange or credit note then a receipt you must produce.

But if the goods are not up to legal standard and you are entitled to a refund then it is reasonable enough that you satisfy the shop you did not buy the goods from their ace rivals two doors away. Perhaps you have a credit card statement. But there is no law that you must come up with the receipt which you have probably screwed up and thrown out of  a bus window (that was naughty) before you get your money back. If written evidence of purchase is just not available then you are still entitled to a  refund. If you sue for it and the judge is satisfied it is more probable that not that you are telling the truth, you will win.


Curiously, there is no time limit for serving a divorce petition on the other party: likewise, a petition for nullity, judicial separation or civil partnership dissolution. So, for example, you could issue  a divorce petition against your wife tomorrow, tell the court you want to arrange to get it served on her and then sit on it. 

Why would you want to do that? Give her a nasty surprise when you next argue? That would be no way to conduct yourself. More likely, you wish to pounce if she brings divorce proceedings against you in another EU country but you want the case to be dealt with in England and Wales. Generally, if both parties bring matrimonial proceedings in different EU countries, the courts of the country in which the first case was started will get to deal with the case and the courts of the other country will  not be allowed to touch it. That's unless there was a failure to act with reasonable promptitude in serving the petition by the party who would normally be the winner of the race.

In one High Court case here in 2014 it was said that to issue a divorce petition prematurely was the equivalent of laying one's towel at dawn upon the sun lounger of the English court and returning at high noon to bask in the warmth of the law of England and Wales on divorce and financial remedies.

Well, last week in another High Court case, the wife had pounced first and the husband had later started proceedings in Germany before being served with the wife's papers. It was not until four months and a day after the wife's petition had been issued that the husband was served with the papers at Heathrow airport. In the particular circumstances, it was held that the wife had acted with reasonable promptitude and so we keep the case and the German courts will be out of it.

I'll have a fiver on a change in the law within the next two years which requires matrimonial petitions to be served within specified periods. And, if I'm wrong, I'll eat another wig.


"It's only a civil court order. I'm not bothering to go. Chelsea are away and I must get to the match." Be warned. Failing to comply with a civil court order is potentially a contempt of court. For that you can be sent to prison, fined or have your assets taken away. This doesn't mean that you have to turn up for every hearing of a civil case but, if you don't, the case may well be decided in your absence and against you.

But where the court has actually ordered you to be present, you stay away at your peril. Rasmikant Premchand Dodhia and Vanita Rasmikant Dodhia were ordered to attend the High Court in June 2016 in connection with a hearing concerning the sale of properties after a partnership dispute had been settled. They failed to attend. Last Thursday, a High Court judge ruled that they had deliberately stayed away and that there was pattern of refusals by them  to accept that they were bound by orders of the court.

They were each fined £25,000 for contempt of court. A very expensive contempt.  

Friday 21 October 2016


So you sent the production company this amazing idea for a tv series and they wrote back and said it's a non-runner but thank you for making contact and don't bother to do so again. And blow me, you've just watched the first programme in a series of 20 which has been sold to the world and it's a carbon copy of your idea. Or may be you are running Fred's Hot Chilli and Mackerel Potato Stall and a rival business has been opened round the corner calling itself Frederick's Hottish Chilli and Mackerel Potato Stall.

You may well have a claim. An intellectual property claim they would call it. They had to call it something. Better than a copycat claim.

It is now going to be possible for anyone who cannot afford to hire a lawyer to make - or defend- an intellectual property claim to obtain advice and legal support FOR FREE. IP Pro Bono has been set up to provide this through a number of leading intellectual property organisations. Generally, you won't qualify for this free help if you are an individual with an annual income above £45,000 or are running a business with an annual turnover exceeding £100,000. Go to www.ipprobono.org.uk 

Wednesday 19 October 2016


Fraud, failing to disclose material information, mistake. All or any of them could result in a financial remedies order being ripped up by the court (for procedure to be used, see my post Remedying a Financial Remedy on 15 September 2016). 

A Court of Appeal decision last Friday highlights and establishes that
  • this applies as between civil partners as well as spouses;
  • this applies even though one of the parties has died;
  • this applies even though the party attempting to reopen the order originally agreed to it; and
  • this applies even though the consenting party when consenting had not believed that the other party had given full or accurate information about their financial circumstances.
In last week's case, the civil partnership was between females and had lasted for two years. One of them died after the court had made a financial order on the basis that the deceased had capital of around £628,000 whereas the other party asserts it was much more and also asserts that the deceased's income was higher than she disclosed to the court. The survivor applied after the death for the order to be cancelled but a judge struck out the application. The Court of Appeal ruled that this decision had been wrong and the survivor's attempt at a cancellation will now go before a High Court judge.

In a separate ruling this month by a High Court judge, a financial order on an opposite-sex divorce has been set aside because of the wife's material non-disclosure, albeit that she had not deliberately or fraudulently intended to deceive the husband. The case will be reheard. The husband had incurred legal costs of £841,000 in making the application to set aside. The wife was ordered to pay one-half of the costs even though this will have a substantial impact upon her financial well being. The husband did not get all his costs because he had gone to the national press about the case, he had not proved the wife's fraud and the wife had made a realistic and sensible offer to compromise. When those costs will have to be paid, however, will be settled in due course.  

For my anti-stitch up guide on relationship breakdown, see Breaking Law at chapter 49.


You could escape a penalty for paying your tax late if you could prove you had a reasonable excuse for the delay. What does that mean? Like an elephant, it is difficult to describe but you know a reasonable excuse when you see one. But this is for sure. The law does not provide shelter for mistakes - even mistakes which are not culpable.

A 70 year old man has just appealed against a penalty of £147 which was calculated at 5% on the income tax he paid a couple of months late. He had sent in a self-assessment return online. His excuse for the delay? For the first time he had used the online facility and requested online reminders. Because he was always expecting a letter though the post, he was not vigilant in opening all his e-mails. He was also forgetful from time to time due to the medications he was taking.

The tax tribunal which has just announced its decision on the appeal accepted that a genuine mistake had been made and that there had been a lack of vigilance. However, the tribunal decided this did not amount to a reasonable excuse. 

The decision may seem harsh but, in law, it was inevitable. 

HMR&C does have the power to reduce a penalty it it thinks it is right to do so in view of special circumstances. It had refused to do so in this case.

All this reminds me that if I want to submit my tax return for 2015/16 on paper, I have got to get it in by 31 October 2016. Otherwise, I will be condemned to doing it online. Blimey, you might not hear from me for a couple of days. Or you might. There's not much to declare.


Anyone who wishes to apply to the family court for a financial remedy (against their spouse on divorce, for example) or for an order relating to the welfare of a child, is generally expected to first attend a mediation information and assessment meeting with a qualified mediator. This is affectionately known to lawyers, mediators and those working in the family court as a MIAM. I wonder why?!

I reported in my 3 October 2016 post (see Family Mediation Changes) on the changes which came in to operation on that date on the exemptions to having to attend a MIAM. There's a  further and brand new one which now also applies and here it is. You are excused attendance where you can claim you have been the victim of domestic violence by your opponent within the previous five years in the form of abuse which relates to financial matters or that you are at risk of being such a victim.

Friday 14 October 2016


I'm not sure if you can yet eat and park your car online, but it will come. After all,  we already have bankruptcy online and online court hearings and divorce applications will be with us in due course. Whilst we wait for this to come about, they've thought of another online activity. Applying to a probate registry for probate or letters of administration following a death.

An application for probate is made where the deceased left a will. If no will was left then the laws of intestacy dictate who gets what and the application is then for letters of administration. Once the application is granted to whoever is entitled to make it, the deceased's estate can be wound up.

Winding up the estate is not as daunting as is often believed. Unless the deceased left millions or there are complications such as legal challenges to the will or on how the intestacy rules would work or in locating assets, the application for probate or letters of administration can be made by you personally without incurring the fees of a lawyer or other professional.  You'll find a helpful guide on how to go about it at GOV.UK Taking legal advice on drawing a will in the first place is another matter. It is highly desirable.

The intention is that ultimately all applications for probate and letters of administration will be made online. For the moment they will be trying out the software involved with a pilot project as from 1 November 2016. From those making online enquiries about procedure to the Probate Service, around two a day in relatively straightforward cases will be invited to go ahead on an online basis. That number will progressively increase. To accommodate this, the Non-Contentious Probate (Amendment) Rules 2016 have been made but this is not recommended reading unless you are a lawyer or funeral director.

For info about how to challenge a will or how intestacy works where  a relative of yours has passed away - and, also how to counter the possibility of such a challenge - take a look at Breaking Law, chapter 32.

Thursday 13 October 2016


If you cannot afford what can be swingeing court or tribunal fees and your income and capital are modest, you may be able to get the fees waived (or remitted, as the law likes to call it). See my previous posts under court fees and also Breaking Law at chapter 13 which deals with a number of other ways of saving fees for court cases.

A revised 19 page guide on remission (of course) has been published today together with the forms you should use to apply which are in English and Welch respectively but positively not in Double Dutch. You'll find all this at GOVERNMENT.UK You can apply on line.

Tuesday 11 October 2016


You generally lose your assets when the court makes you bankrupt. Personal pensions are an exception. But it was thought that you could effectively be forced to draw capital from your pension  after bankruptcy so that you could make some contribution towards your debts under an income payments order (see Breaking Law at chapter 35). When made, these orders have a  lifetime of three years.

Those made bankrupt can rejoice. The Court of Appeal ruled last Friday that someone made bankrupt could not be forced to draw down payments from a personal pension so that they were in a position to satisfy an income payments order. A previous court case which was decided otherwise was overruled. 


If your salary includes commission then your holiday pay should include commission. That's what the Court of Appeal decided last Friday. So congratulations to you dear employees and commiserations to you dear employers. 

The case concerned an employee who received an annual salary of £14,670 with commission on top for inducing customers to sign up to his employer's energy products. That commission normally came to over 60% of his pay packet. The employer gave him holiday pay which was calculated solely by reference to the basis salary. The commission element which was disregarded should have been included, ruled the appeal court.

Employers will be scratching their heads to decide exactly how the commission element is to be calculated for their employees who would otherwise lose out while they were away from work. The Court of Appeal has not given any guidance on the formula to be used. Indeed, it declined to give any hint on how an employer should deal with an employee who, say, only became entitled to commission in a particular year once a certain level or profit or turnover was achieved or  a banker who received a fat results based bonus in March each year and took off for holiday in the summer.  

If the man next to you in a cafe has a calculator in his hand and a frown on his forehead, don't knock his coffee as you leave . He could be an employer with commission earning employees about to have a few weeks off.

Monday 10 October 2016


Usually, there is no automatic right to appeal a court decision in an civil case: permission is required. A new regime governs the procedure for seeking permission from the Court of Appeal as from 3 October 2016. 

If permission is refused by a Court of Appeal judge after reading the relevant papers, the unsuccessful party will no longer be entitled to demand that the application for permission is reconsidered at an oral hearing. There will only be an oral hearing when  the judge reckons that the application cannot be fairly dealt with on the papers. The moral. Make sure you say everything you reasonably need to say in the written application. Otherwise, you may have had it!   

Friday 7 October 2016


It's been a reasonable day for asserting my consumer rights.

My bank First Direct undertook by phone to transfer some money from my current account to a savings account with Atom Bank. Because of the sum involved (don't get excited, not millions - it's Breaking Law I have written and not Harry Potter) it transpires that their procedures required them to phone me back immediately to confirm the details. Good fun and a security thing. They didn't phone me back. But they did a couple of days later by which time I was about to forfeit the right to make the investment. After extraction of hair from my scalp, indigestion caused by irritation and toing and froing with me having difficulty in being able to locate the details Fist Direct already had and so unable to recite them,  my bank was satisfied and made the transfer one day late.

I asked First Direct to record a complaint following which the Head of Customer Relations wrote and hoped I was happy with how things were resolved. Eh? Not quite and I asked him what he thought the disruption, time wastage and consequent anxiety (I did not mention the hair or indigestion) were worth. £50, evidently as they have just paid that sum into my current account with a very reasonable letter of apology. 

Internal complaints procedures with banks and other finance institutions can be fruitful and, if you are
still dissatisfied, it's off the free Financial Ombudsman Service (which I have visited in the past). I am content.

And then there was the matter of the fly on my new pair of trousers from Marks & Spencer. They came unstitched on a second wear as I was entering a restaurant yesterday. I was allowed in as I was wearing a tie. Into M&S today. Very courteous. I overcame the 'no receipt' hurdle (see Breaking Law) with no trouble. I was too late for a short-term rejection under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (usually, 30 days) but did not wish to accept the refund still offered as I had spent out £12 on having the trousers shortened (though I could have claimed this back if a refund was ever made). No, instead I wanted to try out the 2015 Act and so asked for a repair. "We don't have facilities to repair trousers." "But you do have facilities to alter." "Yes, but an alteration is different from a repair." [I doubt that the sewing machine can tell the difference.]  "You have it repaired and we will pay the cost." "Thank you but I don't want the hassle. You organise the repair, please, and pay - under the Consumer Rights Act." "OK."

Where goods are not up to legal standard and you are a consumer, there is that right to repair or replace within a reasonable time. The trader can generally only refuse if that would be impossible or disproportionate compared with other remedies available to you. 

If you ask for a repair or replacement within the 30 days you have for a short-term rejection then that 30 days gets extended to allow repair or replacement to hopefully take place in a satisfactory way.

I'll let you know once I've got my trousers back on!

Wednesday 5 October 2016


The place The High Court or family court.

The occasion The hearing of a case probably involving the welfare of a child or finances on the break up of a relationship.

You A party to the proceedings who is acting in person, without a lawyer, but possibly with someone you have taken along to help you.

Your state Nervous, anxious, pacing up and down.

The shock Your opponent has an impressive looking lawyer. Half an hour before the hearing, the lawyer approaches you. "Good morning. I won't bite you but I want to tell you that I appear for the other side and I have a bundle of documents for you. Here it is. In the bundle you will find a copy of my client's position statement which will help the judge and you understand exactly what my client is after and why. Also copies of five lengthy law reports of previous cases like ours which I will  ask the judge to follow. Oh and some other papers and correspondence. Have a quick read through. Are you ok? You have gone white in the face."

Not an unusual occurrence. However, this must not happen. But something like it did happen in a High Court child abduction case in which judgment was given last Friday. The judge stated that where one side was a litigant in person  and especially where they were not fluent in English, and the other side had  lawyer at court, the bundle of documents prepared by the other side should normally  be sent to the litigant in person at least three days before the hearing. This should be directed by the court beforehand. How they were sent, usually by email, should also be directed. Where time permitted, the court should consider also directing that the key documents were sent with a translation. If the litigant  in person could be caused genuine unfairness by getting the documents late, an adjournment of the hearing might have to be allowed.

Tuesday 4 October 2016


It's the next best thing to reading Breaking Law. Get yourself appointed as a magistrate. We can reveal that beaks are being or will soon be recruited in Kent, London (north, north-west, west and east), Norfolk, Suffolk and West Mercia. For more, go to www.gov.uk

Silence in court!

Monday 3 October 2016


Three new appeal forms for family cases and five amended forms in family proceedings kick in today. If they are not used the likelihood is that the redundant forms will be bounced back.

The new forms are FP161 (appellant's notice), FP162 (respondent's notice) and FP244 (application notice).

The amended forms are C100, FM1, A, A1 and B.

You will find these forms and a multitude of others at https://hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk 


In family law,  there is much talk of MIAMs. Your solicitor (if you are lucky enough to have one) will tell you "But, you'll have to go on a MIAM, you know." And the court clerk will say "This is no good. Your MIAM documentation is missing. Go to the back to the bottom of the class."

A MIAM is a mediation information and assessment meeting which is a bit of a mouthful. So let's call it a MIAM for short! It's a meeting with a trained mediator at which info is provided about how parties to a family dispute can attempt to settle their differences through mediation and an assessment will be made about whether the dispute in question has any real chance of a mediated settlement. Ideally, both sides will go to a meeting and the dispute will be resolved which will please the court no end as it won't be troubled with proceedings.  But mediation cannot be forced on the parties and it's generally the party wanting to go to court who has to attend the meeting before starting proceedings.

MIAMs apply to most cases involving disputes over the welfare of children and applications in matrimonial proceedings for financial remedy orders (for maintenance, property transfer etc). There area load of exceptions to the requirement for a MIAM attendance: in particular, where the party wishing to go to court has been the subject of domestic violence by the other party. 

Up until now, something must have happened over domestic violence within two years of the case starting. In cases starting on or after 3 October 2016, that two years is increasing to five years.  And so, for example, a MIAM will not be needed where within the previous five years there has been a conviction for a domestic violence offence, a non-molestation order has been granted or the other party has gone a court undertaking not to use or threaten violence.