A High Court judge has criticised the lack of clarity over how to get legal aid for committal proceedings in a case concerning the sale of Wimbledon tickets. However, Mr Justice Chamberlain said he was likely to issue a bench warrant authorising an alleged ticket tout's arrest if the defendant does not appear at a hearing on Friday or fails to provide proper medical evidence explaining his no-show.
The case relates to an application by the All England Lawn Tennis Club and All England Lawn Tennis Ground to commit Luke McKay, who they allege is a ticket tout, to prison for contempt of court for allegedly breaching an interim injunction granted in July. Mr Justice Chamberlain stressed in his judgment, handed down last week, that he made no findings on the allegations.
The injunction required McKay to provide a witness statement. A one-page document headed 'Statement of Luke McKay' was sent to the claimants' solicitors, Kerman & Co, in August but the firm said the statement was deficient.
Mr Justice Chamberlain said solicitor Emma Elizabeth Shaw, of Kerman & Co, had 'very commendably taken the trouble to explain to the defendant, on a number of occasions, that he should seek legal assistance and has helpfully pointed him in the direction of places where he might obtain it. She is not to be criticised in any way. However, the authorities I have mentioned indicate that there is a serious lack of clarity about how to go about making an application for legal aid for representation in respect of a committal for breach of an order made in civil proceedings'.
The judge said the current situation presented two problems.
The first problem was that McKay 'clearly indicated' he wished to be represented. The judgment states that he told Kerman & Co the day before he sent his statement that he struggled to obtain legal aid despite contacting four law firms. Mr Justice Chamberlain said the authorities cited in his judgment 'provide ample support for the proposition that even lawyers, never mind litigants in person, may find it difficult to understand how to go about obtaining legal aid in cases like this... The lack of clarity creates a real problem for individuals like the defendant who seek legal representation and for courts dealing with civil contempt cases'.
The second problem was that the defendant can only benefit from legal representation if he is prepared to engage with legal representatives and the court.
Mr Justice Chamberlain adjourned the case until Friday. The Legal Aid Agency has been invited to make submissions on whether the court has the power to make a legal aid determination in McKay's favour. McKay was ordered to attend the hearing or provide detailed evidence from a medical practitioner explaining why he cannot participate in the trial process.