NINE YEARS ON VII: 2020: TWO LITIGATORS WHO ARE SORELY MISSED
2020 was a very strange year for us all. In March the Covid problems started to hit and, for many months, this blog dealt primarily with issues relating to litigation and lockdown. The busiest day ever on this blog was March 25 2020. On the 26th March His Honour Judge Allan Gore QC, writing in the Devon and Cornwall response to coronavirus, wrote “I am also concerned that such Guidance or Protocols as others have given in other clusters have not been shared and have only come to my attention via platforms like Gordon Exall’s Civil Litigation Brief.” It was tempting to select one of the posts relating to coronavirus, particularly the one that asked for a change in the rules, “The Rule Committee: acting with the speed of a tortoise with a wooden leg (and that may be unfair on three-legged tortoises” comes to mind. However the Rule Committee did, eventually, respond and I wanted to look elsewhere. This blog is, basically, about rules, however litigation is about people. To thrive litigation needs people of ability and integrity to work within it. 2020 saw the start of the “not so lonely litigators club” series where a wide range of lawyers shared their experiences of working in the pandemic.
We lost two extraordinary lawyers that year. John Collins and Michael Williamson were my lawyers of the year. I knew John well as we shared a chambers for twenty years. I never met Michael in person but his knowledge and personality shone through in his blog, his social media activity and his reputation.
Michael wrote to me asking whether he could contribute to the “not so lonely litigators” series at a time when he had recently closed down his practice and was undergoing palliative chemotherapy for Stage 4 cancer of the stomach. He became the last founding member of the club. He died on the 24th October 2020.
REMEMBERING JOHN COLLINS
Earlier this evening Richard Wright, the leader of North-Eastern Circuit announced the death of barrister John Collins, of Park Square, Barristers, Leeds.
“Today the @ne_circuit lost one of its finest. John Collins called to the Bar 1956 and working to the very end. Committed to the underdog. Pro Bono champion. Circuit legend. Absolute gentleman. We may not see his like again but we will remember him. Rest in peace John.”
John was a colleague for more than 20 years. There will be others, far more eloquent than me, who will pay tribute to John, his fantastic personal attributes and his professional life and achievements. I would just like to record that he was the nicest, most gentle, most kind human being you are ever likely to meet.
John as a lawyer
John was called to the Bar in 1956 (and that is not a misprint). He was head of chambers of Woodhouse Square, and then joint-head of Zenith for many decades. During that time, indeed in all the time I knew him, I never heard him complain, or say a bad word about anybody.
John had no plans to retire. He had that essential trait of a great lawyer – curiosity. He never stopped learning. He continued writing for the New Law Journal, and more widely, on a wide range of legal subjects. He was an encyclopedia of legal knowledge.
John’s thirst for work and thirst for knowledge went unabated. He was also, as Richard said, a champion of the underdog. In 2016 he was winner of the Bar Pro Bono award. His awards did not stop there. I was on the judging panel when he was an entrant for the Yorkshire Lawyer Awards for his Pro Bono work. The judges put their views in in advance, and then discussed the outcome if there was not a majority winner. I got up to leave the room (as John and I were in the same chambers I couldn’t vote) “don’t bother” said the chair of the panel “it is absolutely unanimous”, John was the winner of the Yorkshire Lawyer Pro-bono award for 2017.
His list of reported cases shows the extent and breadth of his professional work. He was always willing to share his knowledge, many, many young (and now not so young) barristers benefited from his experience and wisdom.
- Re Jackson, Ilott v Mitson  2 FCR 1; WTLR 575;  1 FLR 291; 2FLR 1409,  1AER 932.
- Bell v Northumbrian Water  EWHC 133 (TCC) – Nuisance from defective sewer.
- Direct Line v Fox  1 AER (Comm) 1017, fraudulent insurance claims
- William Smith (Wakefield) Ltd -v- Parisride Ltd  2EGLR 22 – an important decision in agricultural holdings law
- Ribee v. Norrie  33 HLR 69, a successful appeal to the CA, where the duties of an absentee landlord of property were laid down in relation to escape of fire and nuisance
- R. v Leeds City Council e.p. LICS (1996) 73 P&CR 70 (see below)
- Nationwide Anglia B. S. v Ahmed and Balakrishnan (1995) 70 P&CR 381 (loss of vendors lien)
- R. v Inspector of taxes e.p. Brumfield  STC 151 (taxation of farming partnerships)
- Wakefield MDC v Huzminor Investments (1989) 29 RVR 108 (rating of commercial premises)
- Re K.  Ch. 310 (the leading case on enduring powers of attorney)
- Sharneyford Supplies v Edge  Ch. 128,  Ch. 305 (sale of maggot farm: damages for non-completion)
- Re ilkley and Burley Moors (1984) 47 P&CR 324 (rights of common)
- Wakefield City Council v Box  3 All E.R. 506 (markets and fairs)
- Harrison-Broadley v Smith  1 WLR 1262 and Beevers v Mason (1978) 37 P&CR 452 (agricultural holdings)
- Robinson v Crompton Parkinson  (unfair dismissal)
- Jarmain v Wetherall (1977) 75 LGR 537 (the case which gave the “go-ahead” to car boot sales)
- Harrison v Battye  1 WLR 58 (exchange of contracts)
- Blackstone v Burnetts (West End)  1 WLR 1487 (important case on waiver of forfeiture)
- Crow v Wood  1 QB 77 (easement of fencing)
- CEGB v Dunning  Ch. 643 (what is a “pleasure ground”?)
- R. v Inman  1 Q.B. 140 (company fraud, duplicity of indictment)
- Radziej v Radziej  1 WLR 659 (matrimonial provision in bigamy)
- Alwoodley Motors’ Application (1961) 13 P&CR 195 (restrictive covenants)
- Ilott v Mitson – Important decisions on adult child’s Inheritance Act Claim
- R (LICS) v Leeds City Council, advising and representing a Local Authority on restrictive covenants affecting a major development
His chambers’ profile records that John was involved in charitable and public work. He was a member of a housing association board for over 40 years. This does not surprise me. He had an intense sense of public duty which was demonstrated in his capacity as head of chambers for all those decades.
I am sure that I send the condolences of every practising lawyer who knew John to his family. He still had a great deal to give. We will all be poorer without him.
MICHAEL’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE NOT SO LONELY LITIGATOR’S CLUB
THE POST FROM 2020
“This is the last post in this series in its current format. The thirty club members to date are our “founding members”. I started this series so lawyers could share their experiences of working through lockdown. Michael has dealt with a number of problems during the past few months including the merger of his practice whilst undergoing palliative chemotherapy for Stage 4 cancer of the stomach. I have known of Michael’s reputation, and followed his blog “Legalchap” for many years. We are proud to have him as our final founding member.
Founder of Somerset firm, Williamsons and author of the Legalchap blog. “That admirable solicitor from Crewkerne” – Sir Henry Brooke, CFA Test Cases, 2003.
Williamsons’ tenth birthday celebrations were thwarted by the news early last November, following investigations, that I had Stage 4 cancer of the stomach and that surgery was not an option. Palliative chemotherapy followed and I started to prepare for closure by the end of March 2020 if no buyer could be found. Reluctantly, I started to wind down the business and made some redundancies.
I consider myself fortunate to have signed a deal at the end of February for merger with another respected local firm. Three weeks later, we were to find ourselves in lockdown.
With the restraints of distancing etc, the transfer of business has not been as smooth as it might have been and I’m still tidying up loose ends of the old business whilst continuing work on a small caseload as a consultant within the newly merged firm.
This is the rather unusual position from which I consider the questions of a Not So Lonely Litigator….
Where are you working from now?
Home and the office, fairly randomly according to mood, need for access to physical resources and the prevailing level of mayhem within the domestic arena. Fundamentally, I’m very happy in my home office (see photo)
Three months ago, when I still employed two support staff and I had been advised to ‘shield’ because of my chemotherapy treatment, I worked at home almost exclusively only very occasionally visiting the office to deal with a specific task or gather information.
Since my former staff have all left, and where my merger partners have had no immediate need to populate the offices which they agreed to acquire, I can work in isolation there and sometimes that’s helpful. In any event, I’m still tidying up loose ends including deeds and documents that have to be either transferred to the new firm’s offices or returned to clients.
What has been most difficult about working remotely?
Lack of contact with my team, the camaraderie and banter.
We’ve always worked in a relatively small open plan area, though it’s right to say that tucked in ‘my corner’ I’m out of sight and largely earshot. Like any boss worth his or her salt, I can of course hear everything that everybody else is doing!
I’ve always been one for MBWA (managing by walking about) and I’m up and down from my desk throughout the day. Often it’s just to share another joke which I’ll be told is terrible but I take notice of the fact that the two lead complainants have each been telling me this for around 20 years.
When I’m not being grumpy, I’m a sociable type and I do miss being amongst friends. I’m conscious that my time is now limited and I’ve felt cheated of interaction at a point when I wanted to be making the most of life.
What has been your biggest technical challenge?
There hasn’t been one.
On 1 December 2009, when I launched as an unincorporated sole practitioner, I was the only lawyer in the firm and all I could do was litigate in one form or another. Pretty quickly though, I was being asked if I could prepare wills and handle property transactions.
I didn’t have the skills. Nor did I have the physical space then for more people but, above all, there wasn’t enough work in any of these secondary areas to fill five days a week. What I did find was a number of good lawyers who, victims of the crash in 2008, had managed to gain part-time consultancy work and were looking for more.
By and large, these were people who were able and willing to embrace the technology of remote working. The desire to develop such systems was one of the drivers to my own autonomy and we accelerated development of our network and systems to make us more attractive to good lawyers who had resource available but did not wish to travel huge distances to an office.
We came to a position where my lead property lawyer for nine years plus worked always from home on Dartmoor, I had probate lawyers working at various times from other parts of Devon and Somerset whilst my corporate team delivered excellent service from East Sussex and the Isle of Man !
A big key to success, which initially scuppered many firms that had the basic technology in place, was that from the outset we scanned every bit of paper (of any relevance) coming in and saved digital (only) copies of everything going out. The result is that all the information needed to run a file is accessible online, through secure systems.
We always aspired to be paper-free. Some while ago I surrendered to the realisation that it will never quite happen but it’s true to say that we achieved paper-lite!
Is there anything (work wise) that you wish you had with you?
People. See above.
What has been the most helpful thing you’ve learned.
That I can grow a beard. I have previously made only one serious attempt 12 or so years ago and reached the morning of Day 7 before the itching became unbearable. There’s a recent photo on Twitter but one commentator has told me that it should carry a warning!
Do you think this is going to change the way you work in the future?
Part of the explanation is that other forces have already changed my future but more pertinently, we were already doing the stuff that was necessary to get through the crisis. What will feel different is the impact of many others including courts, perhaps, making permanent changes to working practices whether for better or worse.
What is the first thing you are going to do when you are out of lockdown?
Top priority is to get in the car and drive 250 miles to see my elderly parents whom I’ve not seen since the start of the year.
I suppose if that can’t happen during the first few days then another thing I might just do is amble down to town for a beer…