Of the constituent topics on an HND Business Studies course I undertook on leaving school, law was the most interesting. From that point I decided to pursue a legal career, eventually qualifying as a solicitor through the old Part 1 and Part 2 system.
There are, and always have been, challenges in gathering evidence. I learned at an early stage in my career that in defending local authorities/public bodies no one particular witness is able to provide the full story, and that it is often necessary to piece together defence evidence from a variety of completely disparate sources, usually involving different service areas.
Another difficulty is that as a result of cutbacks in recent years, many potential witnesses have been made redundant and are simply no longer available – or if they are, are unwilling to help. One of the challenges local authorities used to face at trial was that they always seemed to start ‘2-0 down’. But that has changed in recent years with the recognition by the courts of the concept of self-responsibility. What’s more, there has been a series of favourable landmark decisions across all service areas, culminating in CN v Poole Borough Council. The Court of Appeal decision in this case is undoubtedly my career highlight so far. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to both Paul Stagg and Lord Faulks who ensured the successful outcome for Poole Borough Council.
I have been fortunate to have been involved in several other
successful appeal court decisions – all in the local authority context. These involved claims brought under the Occupiers Liability Act, for damages for stress/harassment, and to clarify the limitation period in proceedings under the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978.
I have dealt with many stress-related claims against local authorities and represented the successful defendant in the Court of Appeal in Deadman v Bristol City Council. In my experience, stress-related claims are now broader-based across many local authority service areas. One of the changes we have seen over recent years is the impact of the Protection from Harassment Act on these claims, and how that has expanded into the workplace. Another development is the very interesting cross-over with Employment Tribunal matters.
The Animals Act 1971 is my least favourite law. I have encountered it on several occasions, usually in the context of cases involving bites to police dog handlers in training incidents. It has always seemed to me to be a most opaque piece of legislation.