HOUSING POSSESSION DUTY DESK: SIMON MULLINGS AND SUE JAMES: “SO MUCH MORE THAN” A PRACTICAL GUIDE
If there is a “front line” of the legal world a large part of it has to be the housing possession duty desk. A lawyer, with no previous knowledge of the case, is called upon to try to save the home of someone who has arrived at court severely stressed and distressed. All of this is done when time is pressing and a court hearing imminent (in terms of minutes). This requires a great deal of legal knowledge and inner strength. This book is designed to help with both.
DECLARATION OF INTEREST
I know both authors. I met Simon Mullings for the first time when we were both entering Parliament a few years back. We were, it has to be said, both in the queue for a reception held by her local MP to celebrate Sue James’ being Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year. I have known Sue since she was 18, when we were students together, so clearly I haven’t known her that long… Nevertheless I will maintain my usual standards of impartiality when I review this book.
There are some books you read when you know that the authors know their stuff. This is such a book. The emphasis on the word “practical” is an accurate one.
WHAT DO YOU NEED AT COURT?
The best example is under the heading “what do you need at court”. Guidance given includes:
- This book!
- Phone and charger (advise not to rely on calculator on phone).
- Details of local advice agencies.
- Pens (more than one).
- Sticky notes.
- Print out of main benefit rates.
- If there is case law you find you use often – keep a print out with you.
THE PRACTICAL VEIN CONTINUES
The practical vein continues with a reminder that
“It is obvious but worth reiterating that defendants who have come to court at risk of losing their home can be feeling and can display a range of emotions and behaviours that are not always conducive to taking clear instructions”.
The chapter goes on with guidance on obtaining instructions from the client, the opponent, time management and the court usher. It gives a summary of the information to gather, with essential checklists, questionnaires and draft letters.
ALL IN ONCE PLACE
The real beauty of this book is that it packs a lot into a small space. A lawyer in court has access to a summary of the law, best advice on how to approach the hearing but also, contained within the book:
- The relevant Pre-action protocols.
- The relevant Civil Procedure Rules and practice directions.
- The background on the current stay on possession proceedings.
The latter shows that the book is up to date. It deals with the problems caused by COVID and that issues that will arise afterwards.
SHOULD YOU BUY THE BOOK?
If you are a housing lawyer then of course you should. Others should think about it too, the book stands as an example as to how “a practical guide” should be written. The book is available for the Legal Action Group here.
A FINAL WORD
The final word is best left to Mr Justice Knowles CBE who writes the foreword to the book, he lists a number of things he learned whilst reading the text;
“A fourth thing I learned was about the quiet, informed, leadership that the authors of this book provide in this field. This book is just one example of a contribution they make with enormous knowledge and deep professional and personal integrity.
This book makes a typically modest claim to serve as a practical guide. It is that, but it is so much more. It serves those who make the system work. To all of them and to the remarkable authors. I pay respectful tribute.”