The case of R (on the application of Sharing) v Preston County Court [EWHC 515] is perhaps a surprising one to comment on in a personal injury blog. It concerns wrongful eviction, rent arrears and judicial review. However it is of wider interest because the claimant, whose claim for damages was dismissed by the district judge and whose application for permission to appeal to the circuit judge was also refused, successfully had the refusal of permission to appeal quashed in the administrative court and remitted to a different circuit judge. Both this case and the case cited below came from Preston County Court and the circuit judge in concern ended up in the judicial stocks...
The facts of Sharing are, in brief, as follows. The claimant brought a claim for damages for unlawful eviction. The defendant relied upon two witnesses: a WPC and another tenant. At trial he said that the WPC had been served with a witness summons but had said she was unavailable - he was a bit cagy about it when pressed. The other witness was held out to be an independent witness. The trial judge found the independent witness to be essentially truthful and that the claimant had lied about a tenancy deposit. He dismissed the claim finding the police evidence favoured the defendant. The claimant then obtained a statement from the WPC to the effect that she had not received a witness summons, she had been available and that when she interviewed the ‘independent’ witness, she had assumed she was in fact the defendant’s partner because of the way they related to one another. The WPC also provided other evidence which undermined some of the defendant’s case.
The claimant then sought permission to appeal on the basis of the WPC’s fresh evidence. That permission was refused and hence an application was made to the Administrative Court for judicial review. Wilkie J was troubled by the way the circuit judge had conducted the hearing saying that, from the transcript, it was apparent that he gave counsel for the claimant an ‘extremely rough ride’. He did not permit her to develop the main point she wished to make and he repeatedly said the case had been won or lost because the district judge had not believed the claimant. He found with great hesitation and regret that the circuit judge acted in such a way that a fair-minded and independent bystander would conclude that he had finally and firmly made up his mind from the outset of the application that he was going to refuse it, that he was going to refuse to admit the fresh evidence of the WPC and his repeated interruptions of counsel and the way he focused on the way in which the district judge had decided the case was the clearest possible evidence of apparent bias.
The key case on applying for judicial review of the decision of a circuit judge is R (on the application of Strickson) v Preston County Court & Ors  EWCA Civ 1132. There Laws L.J. said that before JR could be granted a defect much more fundamental than an error of law had to be established. He said ‘I think a distinction may be drawn between a case where the judge simply gets it wrong, even extremely wrong (and wrong on the law, or the facts, or both) and a case where… the judicial process itself has been frustrated or corrupted. This, I think, marks the truly exceptional case.’ He gave a number of examples: the court embarking on an enquiry it lacks all power to deal with, failure to enquire or adjudicate upon a matter which was its unequivocal duty to address, a substantial denial of the right to a fair hearing, a court acting ‘incomplete disregard of its duties’.
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