THe sad financial situation we are still in has been overshadowed by press excitement which has led everyone to believe we as litigants in person have achieved an amazing victory. It makes good news, but it has left us bewildered.
Lloyds Bank is still pursuing us for interest on the loan. Because we mitigated the losses by the proceeds from selling Richard's house rather than being allowed to pay off our own mortgages we should in fact have no interest to pay on the counterclaim.
More to the point if our first solicitor had put an injunction on Richard's house, Richard would still have his home and income from its letting to pay more than half the mortgage repayments. The poor advice that we were given did not end with the bank.
Our first encounter with the legal process was with our first solicitor, who we stayed with for nearly a year until we studied the law ourselves to see what our case really was. We did not know then that studying would make it possible for us to have the courage to represent our own case four years later on. We approached the banking ombudsman and searched for a new solicitor but each time the answer was, “You have a good case but do not take on a bank.”
A coincidence brought us into contact with John Mackenzie (of Mackenzie Persaud) who brought our case to the brink of trial. He pitted his wits against the might of Lloyds Bank for four years, when legal aid was no longer available and we suddenly found we would be by ourselves in the trial. Because the trial papers were prepared we could feasibly take the reins but also our case was not based on complex banking law but on the facts of the case.
John stood in the background to help on occasion but we had already gained the main tools from the strict schooling he had given us. He had drilled us many times in the art of being a good witness. We hastily re-read the book The Art of Advocacy in the Magistrates Court, and Golden Rules of Magistrates Courts. Many might relish the chance to cross-examine their bank manager but I found it daunting; I lacked the advocate's killer instinct. Nevertheless, I got him to reveal all we had hoped for.
We could not possibly have embarked on this 12-day journey in the High Court if we had not had ex-Lloyds Bank manager Sam Crabb and accountant Charles Henderson who rallied to our aid. As Mackenzie friends they each helped all they could, as if it was their own case they were determined to win. Their technical questions brought out vital information beyond our capabilities.
Once the decision to proceed as litigants in person had been made the work load was enormous. We all worked through every hour of the day. Bundle after bundle had to be prepared but we were helped by Dibb Lupton Broomhead, representatives for Lloyds Bank. Then in the trial, counsel for Lloyds Bank Gregory Mitchell was helpful on technical issues.
We could not possibly anticipate each phase of the trial process so we just attempted to remain as sensitive as we could to every moment, reacting as spontaneously as we could.
Even while on legal aid, to save time and money we searched for a suitable accountancy firm and found Baker Tilly, which provided an expert witness – chartered accountant Chilton Taylor. And we were rewarded by his excellent performance in the witness box.
Litigation in person should not be entered into without first considering the risks. The legal process, as it moves slowly on its traditional path, is extraordinary to outsiders and only the intrepid novice should attempt to enter. John was right though, when he said that adrenaline will carry you through the trial.
What makes us content is that despite our continuing dire financial position, we have at least won something of value. The confusion and argument our judgment has raised is eventually going to help clarify the advice offered by banks in the future. And with the legal system too expensive for most of us and with cutbacks in legal aid, it seems very likely that the phenomenon of litigants in person may soon become a household phrase.