Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Fancy Sueing Your MP?

So Labour MP Ann Keen has been fined £15,000 for being, well, a bit crap. At least that's what her local County Court clearly believes. The full background to the story is in the Evening Standard. According to Paul Waugh...

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of this particular case, why on earth is litigation seen as the answer when a constituent feels their MPs is not effectively representing them? ... More importantly, as John Spellar put it today, surely the real accountability for an MP lies with the ballot box and not the courts? I cannot imagine why the county court in this case actually found in favour of the complainant. Mr John Taylor may or may not have a point about Mrs Keen being "lazy" (though she denies it and points out she tried to help him). But his best recourse is to turf her out at the next general election.

On a more practical point, every single MP in this place gets aggrieved punters chasing them to pursue this or that concern. If Brentford County Court did indeed shell out £15,000 to Mr Taylor, it may just have given the green light to the green ink brigade to plague the courts with similar litigation. Depressing.

I thought this was all a wind-up first of all. But it isn't. I have no idea as to whether Ann Keen is a diligent MP or not. It seems to me she did all that could reasonably be expected of her by a constituent. But if this court case is seen as a precedent, it begs the question as to why on earth anyone would ever put themselves forward for Parliament again.


JuliaM said...

So they can claim £175,000 of taxpayers money for a flat on the South Bank despite living nine miles away, of course!

DespairingLiberal said...

Wow. This is bizarre. She should appeal and get it overturned. Maybe some new District Judge training in "democratic values" is needed.

This seems to be one of a disturbingly growing number of cases where public officials apparently have no idea what our democracy is actually about.

Raedwald said...

It seems Ann Keen ignored a County Court summons and he got judgement against her by default, which she then applied to be set aside. No wonder when she got the letter instructing her to pay £15k plus costs into court that she took it seriously.

County courts can't make new law, of course, but I'd be fascinated if a successful negligence case could be made against an MP; does an MP actually have a duty of care to constituents? Let alone the other legs of the stool.

Magwitch said...

Perhaps it's all a bit of a mix-up.

According to the article the court award the £15,000 when he [Mr Taylor] brought a case that was not contested by Mrs Keen.

It then states the court reportedly withdrew its judgment after she explained her side of the story and has asked Mr Taylor to prove he has been wronged under the law..

I know very little about the law but it would be interesting to know exactly what the allegation was against Mrs Keen that would have influenced the court to award such damages/compensation; presumably on the basis that no contest = guilty.

P.S. you seemed strangely quiet on the Simon Mayo show this afternoon.

Unknown said...

It's a county court case, with toy judges and rubber hammers. YAWN. She'll appeal to a real court and this farce will be overturned.

If not, and it is upheld all the way to the Court of Appeal, then silly season has well and truly arrived.

Richard Edwards said...

This sounds like a non story. Report not great but its looks like because she didn't get off her arse and file a defence default judgment was entered againsts her. How ironic. The judgment was later set aside.

No precedent was set. So where's the beef?

Unknown said...

"No precedent was set."

No precedent CAN be set from County Court.

Old Holborn said...

*it begs the question as to why on earth anyone would ever put themselves forward for Parliament again.*

Mr Burns voice


Simon Gardner said...

It would be more interesting if you could sue someone else’s MP - ie a Minister of the crown - for being useless.

drevetailimin said...


Unknown said...

"it begs the question "

No it doesn't! Please don't use phrases when you don't know what they mean.

Hacked Off said...

Amazing, her photo in the Mail shows her to be the long lost twin sister of Marjorie Dawes, and possibly the long lost triplet of Pauline from Royston Vasey's Fresh Start Office.

The Penguin.

Guthrum said...

She ignored a County Court Summons, therefore Judgement was entered in default, it appears that the only paperwork she deals with urgently is her expenses.

Judgement has now been set aside, after she ran squealing to the Court.

If we had a Constitutional Court where useless and corrupt MP's and Lords could be dragged before or some system of recall, this frustration would not get to these levels. Mr Taylor has waited for nearly fifty years for compensation, Keen has ploughed her furrow for £660 000 in the last eight years, she thinks she has a sinecure until the next exlection.

Dick the Prick said...


Anonymous said...

Interestingly if she does not overturn it or pay it as it is over £750 - the plantiff can press for bankruptcy, which means the MP is out!

I don't know the details of the case but if the MP "just left his case" at a point where she said she could do no more, where it may be the case that she could - harrase the minister responible via writing to them - speaking on the floor of H of C, then it is debatable whether she might be open to having failed in duty of care or failed to execute her office in the interests of her electorate.

This is a point of debate and not an accusation by the way! Interesting debate.

Catosays said...

It seems a shame that more constituents do go along this road. We might then have some MPs who are worth their salt!

Catosays said...

Ooooops, meant 'don't go along this road'

Anonymous said...

Yes Cato - the long tongued variety of MP who seems to spend more time with their tongue in a parties leadership rear nether regions rather than their mouth!

Ny MP once said to me he could do no more - of course he could, it was just it did not suit him or the Labour Party!

Labour Labour Labour - Out Out Out!

Anonymous said...

Channel 4 News - two thirds of people think that Gordon Brown's initiatives will provide little or no help in combating the recession/ Deppresion that Brown reffered to this afternoon!

Labour Labour Labour - Out Out Out!

rob's uncle said...

The full story is in the Daily Mail somewhere but I can't be bothered to look for it . . . yawn.

The Green Ink Brigade are always with us: those from Hounslow who get no satisfaction from their MPs write to my MP, the very wonderful member for Twickenham, Dr Vincent Cable, instead.

It was stupid of her to have ignored the summons. Who does she think she is?

rob's uncle said...

'Sueing' should be 'Suing'.

Tomfiglio said...

Read your twitter...fabulous new office, dinner and a night at the City Inn ("I need some luxury in my life"). Nice work if you can get it.

The Grim Reaper said...

Will this finally kill off your dream of being a Tory MP, Iain? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Grim Reaper

Will this finally kill off your dream of being a Tory MP, Iain?

No it will not! Why would it? Labour supported by the LD's have ensured the recession will turn into a possible Deep recession or even Depression as Gordon Brown said today at PMQ's today.

Mostly Ordinary said...

I wrote to Jim'll Fix It in 1983 asking to meet Bananarama.

He did nothing - he's going down now!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Spellar is spot on - if you don't like your MP vote them out.
It's our nod towards democratic accountability!

Anonymous said... begs the question as to why on earth anyone would ever put themselves forward for Parliament again.

Oh, dear; oh, dear; oh, dear. This really won't do, you know.

Really, Mr. Dale, I expected better of you. Please see here. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, as it were.

Simon Gardner said...

Martin Day said... “Labour supported by the LD's...”

You what?

Bill Quango MP said...

Thankfully your enlightened readers have supplied the missing details in the comments.

Phew.. sticky few minutes for me there. Thought the game was up for a moment.

The Grim Reaper said...

Martin Day said "No it will not [kill off Iain's dream of being a Tory MP]! Why would it?"

Since when is your name Iain Dale?

Bird said...

"Green ink brigade", usually bracketed with "Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells".
Listen scribblers; these are CLICHES! Don't mention them again.
BTW, I've never seen green ink for sale. Who started this myth? John Mortimore, George Melley?
No more please. Stick to simple, truthful prose.

Oh dear; WV is winge

jailhouselawyer said...

I thought she looks like Sue Barker; However, this is a question of law and not a Question of Sport. Having said that, I can quite see that it is entertaining to chase them into court. Tally Ho! Aye, what? Hunting Ban? They are fair game.

Parliament is too busy with fiddling expenses to care about Joe Public. As for the electoral process, one vote is not going to make much difference.

Yesterday, I saw on ConHome some numpty seeking Right Wing support to take pro active action against the Left in Court. I would be surprised if the courts entertained this. But, if they do, bring it on!

subrosa said...

From what I've read she deserves to cough up. The man wrote her 100 letters looking for help to claim his money and she never replied. He's waited 50 years for his cash.

Unknown said...

She didn't defend herself, and he obtained judgment by default - a perfectly normal thing to happen. The courts cannot be expected to vet claims which are not contested - at least, not without taxes going up. Anyway, why should a claimant (say, a small business owed money) be put to the effort of proving a small claim if the defendant doesn't dispute what they say? I think the court's procedure here was perfectly sound.

Had this MP taken the case seriously before judgment was entered, this never would have happened. She must have ignored the court documents. Of course, as we can see, even that hasn't resulted in unfairness because even having lost the case by default, she's been able to have the default judgment set aside - which, again, is normal.

The only issue here is whether MPs should benefit from the same immunity as the Crown does - you can't get default judgment against the Crown as I recall.

DiscoveredJoys said...

I have no idea about the rights or wrongs of this particular case.

I am pleased that someone is using a little lateral thinking though.

There are many cases where local councils appear to act unreasonably - but there is little comeback.

There are many instances where the Police allegedly fail to act appropriately - and there is little effective action that anyone can take.

Doctors or nurses allegedly kill people through laziness or incompetence - but there is precious little chance of an apology, let alone punishment for the guilty.

MPs appear to ignore their constituents much of the time, documents go mysteriously missing, but no-one is censured.

But if you are an ordinary person...

The right to free speech is being eroded, as is the right to demonstrate.

Ordinary rate payers, taxpayers and constituents feel the full weight of authoritarian government for the least infraction.

So, my policy for any public servant that cocks up my life is to make them share the pain. Not through violence but by using all the complaints systems, ombudsmen, letters in the press, courts, whatever, to place a black mark on their future career. Perhaps they will take more care next time... and that is why I am pleased to see an MP finding out that they are not above having to share the pain.

Bardirect said...

Whether or not you continue to aspire to a career in politics this post demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the BRITISH legal system. Not much different from this useless mp.

Dick the Prick said...


Dick the Prick said...

Difference with politicians and me ain't massive bifter - always should I choose. Little thing called love.

WV: Slater - to a point.

Atlas Shrugged said...

Rubbish Iain I would, and so would countless thousands, and not for the money either.

I guess their would be countless thousands, even if MP's got payed no more then their bus fares.

You are right however, the ballot box should decide everything. However as we all know by now, or certainly should know by now.

Whoever the country votes for FASCISM of one colour or another still gets in.

In my humble opinion a Conservative Government is ALWAYS less fascist then a Labour one but that is hardly the real point.

Martin S said...

Only an inefficient lazy, useless person would decide to ignore a court summons!

Oh... hang on! Isn't that the basis of his case? That Marjorie Dawes MP (yes, I agree she does!) was an inefficient lazy, useless person?

Case proven! Next!

wv = mingu You couldn't make it up!

Steve said...

"I have no idea as to whether Ann Keen is a diligent MP or not."

I couldn't tell you, in the 7 years I lived in Brentford I cannot remember a single thing she said or did.
Of course most of that time she spent in her paid by taxpayers Chelsea Flat, commuting 40 minutes back home was just far too much like hard work.

Lady Finchley said...

For the ignorant among you and yes, that means you, Jailhouse Lawyer - I have seen this kind of thing too many times and God knows I hate being in a position to defend Ann Keen. However we see it time and again - constituents with real and sometimes imagined gripes who demand that the MP 'do something about it'. MPs cannot get involved in legal and court matters such as the green inker constituent demanded. They cannot intervene in trials, appeals or judicial reviews. They cannot get involved in local council planning matters yet this is demanded by constituents on a daily basis. Most are too cheap to get legal advice so they hound MPs. Very few MPs have the cojones to say there is nothing I can do and then proceeds to write a series of useless letters to prove that 'they are doing something'.

And for those who think MP's do nothing - yesterday we managed to get a CSA payment for a desperate constituent who had been trying for months and get justice for a man who had been treated abominably at a local hospital. The constituent's wife wastouched by the care and kind words given. And that is just two of the cases in one day.

No doubt the know nothings will come back with some idiot remark about this but how many of you can say you made a difference in somebody's life today?

Roger Thornhill said...

"it begs the question as to why on earth anyone would ever put themselves forward for Parliament again"

Anyone except those prepared to be a good little boy and toe the Establishment* line. Anyone who steps out of line, you know, asks for a referendum etc, will suddenly find themselves in court.


* quisling Fabian wet centrist self loathing etc.

Dick the Prick said...

Lady Finchley - they can write a letter saying that though eh?

Lady Finchley said...

Dick the Prick - do you think you can converse in plain English please?

What have you done to make a difference is somebody's life today except being an inarticulate pain in the ass?

John Hemming said...

Issuing the claim form is against the Bill of Rights and a "contempt of parliament"

MPs are accountable - for the way we do the job - through the ballot box not the courts.

Simon Gardner said...

Head of Legal said... “The only issue here is whether MPs should benefit from the same immunity as the Crown does - you can't get default judgment against the Crown as I recall.”

Actually, the issue you have brought up is whether the crown should enjoy the immunity it does.

It shouldn’t.

Anonymous said...

Iain, why should politicians be exempt from the courts? MPs can rarely be "voted out" because of the voting system (i.e. most are in pig with rosette tuff). Some treat their constituents with utter contempt (e.g. my own MP, David Lammy). Ah, that's a thought: maybe I should sue Lammy for being useless and lazy? The fact that Mrs. Keen ignored the County Court Summons suggests that her constituent may have been right to brand her "lazy". Have you gone native Iain, even though you haven't got there yet?

Simon Gardner said...

Bird said... “I've never seen green ink for sale. Who started this myth? John Mortimore, George Melley?”

It’s been a traditional term in the newspaper business for aeons. I also believe it’s traditional for RN admirals to use green ink!

Dick the Prick said...

Lady Finchley (although I strongly dispute your breeding). I have paid my taxes - that is what I have done today. Funded the lavish and illegitimate affairs of liars and briggands, of indolence which you see so fitting as part of your role.

Take a break from being a twat eh? You've earned it.

Lady Finchley said...

Tell me Justin, how has your MP treated you with contempt? By not agreeing with you? Or not voting the way you wanted him to? Are you one of the many who bombard their MPs with lengthy missives on a regular basis and then expect an in-depth answer to each and every point? Or did you ask for help with something and he refused?

My local MP used what I think is the absolute minimum effort when I needed his help - all he does is sign useless EDMs - so I don't vote for him. I can't honestly say that him putting the maximum effort would have helped me but I would have thought much better of him as an MP. So, I don't vote for him but sue? It is the litigation culture gone mad.

Lady Finchley said...

Not good enough, Prick, paying your taxes. What have you done to better somebody's life? Nothing, just, as I thought.

Dick the Prick said...

Heaven forfend that someone does their job. I think you may find that the word you were struggling for was 'entreat'.

Dick the Prick said...

It bloody is good enough. I don't make challenges on the social contract. I pay my taxes, look after my family and don't break the law.

Who the hell are you? I take days off - alright? I'm not fleecing the tax payers purse. I've earned my cash and sometimes, sometimes, I like to have a break.

Do I need your permission? Nah, you ain't no Lady.

youareanidiot said...

you need to learn to spell

S U E I N G?

maybe you are on an "e"


Anonymous said...

By not responding to constituents' correspondence, never being seen in the constituency, not even having a constituency office... shall I go on?

Lady Finchley said...

Justin, I am not defending him. I just want to know - have you asked him for help for something and he refused? Or ignored you?

Not having a constituency office is a red herring. You don't really need one - the job can be done from Westminster. But, if he could honestly help you and didn't, then that is another matter. But if you are the type that writes endless reams on your opinions on a regular basis then you can see why you are wasting time that could be better use actually helping another constituent or legislating or working on a local campaign. I daresay if he is as bad an MP as he is a quiz show contestant I feel sorry for you but do be honest. What has he not done specifically - I am just interested.

Lady Finchley said...

As for you Dick the prick face - I have obviously struck a nerve - I thought as much.

Dick the Prick said...

Oh well done. Kudos to you. Wander round long enough abrogating all values and people may get upset. 10 housepoints to Dickens!

Obnoxio The Clown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dick the Prick said...

There may be a deeper question: what price a good secretary? Often times more valuable than your right hand man. Anything less than £40k and it's monkeys.

Lady Finchley said...


And your point is?

You certainly wouldn't win a Plain English award would you?

Dick the Prick said...

I dunno - I think I would. I like the vernacular, the idiom, the folksy, down to earth, plain speaking Yorkshire approach to most things. I'm not good with grey, go with your first decision and be talked away from it - quite simple really.

I think this government - irrespective of philosophy or objective has demeaned public office. The Butler Inquiry infuriated me because no minutes were taken - I don't even begin to have access to evidence supporting war but is it rude to ask for a record of events? I don't even give a toss if they remain secret and evidence submitted in camera - just that in office, people do admin.

It's difficult to get caught up in the fact that politics is about big decisions which have generational consequences - but that's like 10% of the job - the other 90% is just work, like any other.

Unknown said...

As a former constituency caseworker I hope I can shed some light on this. I make no comment on Keen and her abilities (or lack of them) as an MP.

County court judgements by default against MPs are not unprecedented. I know of one case in the last five years where an illegal immigrant won one against an MP for personally failing to procure him a British passport. Usually MPs hand summonses over to the Parliamentary legal authorities who deal with them, but in the passport case the MP didn’t bother to defend it as they didn’t think it possible that the court would side with an illegal immigrant with mental health problems alleging a conspiracy involving the MP, the masons and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate……..

Overturned on appeal obviously.

Constituents often claim that MPs have refused to help them when in reality what’s happened is that they’ve failed to get them the answer that they want. They also think that MPs are somehow above the law and can personally overturn legal judgements.

In my time as a caseworker I’ve seen my MP threatened with legal action for failing to get someone off killing someone in a drink drive accident whilst on holiday abroad and halt a prosecution of someone caught coming off a ferry in a van containing more cigarettes than a Bentham & Hedges factory. Another threatened county court action for illegal implantation of monitoring microchips in his head. The cigarette smuggler actually believed that an MP should be able to halt any prosecution, even a murder one, if the defendant was a constituent. Oh, and it’s not uncommon for constituents taking legal action to fail to serve papers on the MP either.

Most constituents are normal. Quite a few are not, and MPs do tend to attract a good proportion of green inkers and the mentally ill. A constituent with a 20 year old grievance and 15 box files of correspondence is not at all unusual. Your MP only represents you in Parliament. They are not your mother and they can’t always make everything right.

Keen appears to have initially made representations over the 47 year old incident but according to the Evening Standard “in the end she decided to draw a line unless his solicitors could suggest anything else she could do”. That’s not refusing to help. The fact that his solicitors have apparently not suggested further avenues she can pursue, suggests that his options have been exhausted.

I’m not sure what powers Mr Taylor thinks Keen has that she’s not exercising. She’s taken the case up with the Minister repeatedly and got no joy. That’s probably the limit of her powers. She can’t personally order him to be compensated for wrongful imprisonment in 1962. What exactly does he want her to do?

Like I said this is no comment on Keen (of whom I know little), but a general explanation of MPs powers and constituents’ expectations.

Unknown said...

MPs are legislators not bloody social workers. We elect them as Members of Parliament, not as Constituency Arse-Wipers in Chief.

Christ almighty, these people!

DespairingLiberal said...

Dick - the first rule of Plain English is that your sentences need to make some kind of sense.

DianaClaridge said...

Maybe I am missing the point but as a constituent personally I have always thought she was a bit of a waste of space - ask a local councillor and you will get instant action but with her pigs might fly ...

It is no secret that she has one of the lowest records for asking questions in the House but near the top of the list for claiming expenses so I find all this quite believable.

She voted for the third runway which tells you a lot about her representing the views of her constituents in West London who all live under a flight path - from this alone I presume she does not expect to retain her seat?

Anonymous said...

As far as we at the Paintbrush Collective can see, there's no legal obligation on an MP to provide casework services to constituents at all - although, of course, most do, and it appears that Ann Keen does with dilligence. In fact, there are probably no formal duties that MPs have to their constituents, and so there can not be any negligence that is actionable in the courts.
Of course, they have moral and political duties - but surely they're best regulated at the ballot box?

Lady Finchley said...

Catkins - brava! Well and truthfully said.

Interesting that Justin could not come back to me on why he thinks his MP is a duffer.

50 Calibre said...

They should all be fined at least £15k in an effort to mitigate the effects of their expenses fiddles on the long-suffering taxpayer.

Lady Finchley said...

Yeah, right, Ian - they are ALL at it. Grow up.