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Judge criticised for ‘bullying’ Litigant in Person

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London’s Court of Appeal has ruled that a judge in a recent libel claim had ‘seriously transgressed’ the fundamental principle of neutrality and had ‘bullied’ a Litigant in Person (‘LIP’) whilst they were giving evidence at trial.

The case in question, Serafin v Malkiewicz & Ors, was a libel action involving a Polish language publication called Nowy Cza. The claimant was a LIP – meaning that he was representing himself rather than using a solicitor or barrister – and was giving evidence at the trial. The trial judge, Mr Justice Jay, was accused by the LIP of making:

..frequent gratuitous interjections during the trial, hostile to the claimant, putting the claimant under enormous pressure and making it extremely difficult for him to conduct the litigation”.

The LIP’s plea was upheld at the Court of Appeal on three grounds:

1. That the judge’s conclusion that the defendants had shown a public interest defence was “unsustainable”;
2. That the judge’s finding as to the truth of the meaning of one of the allegation was “unsustainable and not one which he was properly entitled to reach on the evidence before him;
3. The judge’s unfair judicial treatment overall

In commenting on the decision, the Appeal Court said:

(the judges actions were) all the more surprising and troubling given that the claimant was acting as a litigant in person and English was not his first language (albeit he spoke it well)”.

It added:

We are also highly troubled by the repeated demands and criticisms by the judge regarding the claimant’s disclosure, in circumstances where pre-trial disclosure had been completed by both sides at a time when both the claimant and defendants had been represented by solicitors and counsel, and no application for further disclosure had been made by the defendants..further, the judge’s demand that the claimant give disclosure of ‘all relevant documents’ went beyond what the defendants had ever required and reinforces the impression that he was favouring one side at the expense of the other.”

 

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