Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Ghost of Daniel Defoe

This would now seem to be taking on the proportions known only to the architect responsible for the drawing up of plans for a colossal ancient Mycenaean citadel situated around 90 kilometres south west of Athens around 3400 years ago. At this juncture it might be wise to highlight who exactly are the characters in the second act of this ongoing epic and as such this writer craves your indulgence...

Your Honour I pray your indulgence...
the libellous gentleman I refer to is that fucker over there!

Cast of Characters

The Accused

Dr Gary Paul Duke - The defendant (also known to his associates as the gentleman to the left with the grey hair)

The Claimant (as named in witness statements collectively known as the University of Salford)

Professor Martin Hall - The Vice Chancellor
Dr Adrian Graves - The Registrar
Professor John Wilson - A Head of School
Dr Chris Andrew - A former Head of School
Mr Mark Rollinson - The Head of Governance Services
Professor Michael Harloe - A former Vice Chancellor

Acting on behalf of the Claimant

Mr Ian Austin - Formerly of Halliwells and the Lawyer for the Claimant
Mr Simon Vaughan - Barrister (or Brief) for the Claimant

Greatly assisting the accused

Mr Eric Longley - The McKenzie Friend

Act II

The setting: The Accused has been named as The Defendant by The Claimant in a claim for libel. The Claimant has not yet issued proceedings against The Defendant as it seeks to gather conclusive evidence which The Claimant believes will prove that The Defendant and/or others are responsible (or not) for a website hosted on Wordpress called The Rat Catchers of the Sewers. Prior to this The Defendant has received several letters from the Claimant's legal representatives asking The Defendant to admit to being involved in the website. One other person is known to have received a similar letter. As is his right, The Defendant refused to accede to the request. He has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the blog. He has no obligation to supply any information to The Claimant. The Claimant, having no conclusive evidence to prove that The Defendant is involved, has asked the Court to grant an Order - a Letter of Request - that the host of the website (Automattic Inc who own Wordpress and are based in California) provide information that would confirm the originators, authors and contributors to the website and provide The Claimant with all IP addresses used to post on the Rat Catchers website. To date Automattic Inc have proved less than responsive.

It's a Saturday morning... the day before the day before

Saturday 19th November 2010
Yesterday brought with it a nice big juicy bundle of documents supplied by The Claimant's solicitors - yes three whole days before the hearing! It's nice to be indulged by the opposition and given more than sufficient time to prepare. I'm lucky to have a raft of top lawyers who have the resources to wade through the one hundred and eighty four pages before Monday. The telephone rings. I shake the almost irresistible gravitational attraction of further slumbers from my head, yawn, rub my eyes and quickly realise that the only raft I have is the one I'm adrift at sea on. I also make a mental note that it's made out of paper and it's a bit soggy. I stumble out of the bedroom and head in the general direction of the shrill claxon call of the telephone.

Legal representation - it's a costly business

Just to place things into their proper perspective, unlike The Claimant I'm gratuitously lacking in the legal representation department to some merry tune. In short, the luxury of a gaggle of lawyers with their accompanying pooled experience to draw upon, or to undertake for me this thoroughly unwholesome job of work is oddly amiss. The reason for this? As some may be aware I am currently, as they say, ' between positions' which in this case is rockhard and a funky place and penury and debtors gaol. Joking apart, Legal Aid isn't generally available to defend against allegations of libel and nothing leads me to believe that my door bell will be accosted in the very near future by a dashing William Garrow type. Despite this obvious deficiency, one coffee later and it dawns on me that it's the day before the day before the second court hearing and there is a considerable bundle of documents to be thoroughly absorbed.

One of these might get you in

The odd man out

Oddly enough, I wasn't invited to the first hearing. Although my name is firmly affixed next to the word "defendant" on the legal documents and witness statements I've so far received from the court and The Claimant's lawyer (hereafter referred to as The Lawyer), I was kept pretty much out of the initial hearing loop. The Claimant is seeking an order from the Court.  Without the intervention of the Judge - Judge Smith - I probably wouldn't have been invited to this one. Of this I was informed by a nice helpful chap in the Civil Justice Centre a few weeks back. It appears that the The Claimant's legal team, wary of being seen to conduct such affairs behind closed doors, sought to have this second hearing ex parte.*

The task in hand

Thus without the necessary resources to finance legal representation, I knuckle down and embark upon the gruelling task of reading one hundred and eighty four pages, combing through every word very carefully. I comb through it so thoroughly that I've given it an asymmetric side-parting and it'll be adorning the head of a loud, spotty middle class sixth form student on the grassy knoll adjacent to URBIS a week today. It's only taken a couple of hours but I'll have to re-read and take notes. I also come to realise that I have re-developed an enormous caffeine habit with its diuretically induced concomitant - an enormous latrine habit - which like its Japanese tea-based counterpart, has its own little ritual involving lunging towards the stairs holding your crotch whilst mentally teetering on a tightrope stretched betwixt leaving it 'til the last minute and obvious signs of pant pissing with associated potential rancour from my long-suffering wife.

As well as habitual urination, I conclude that document reading has become quite an everyday chore, an almost mundane daily have-to-do - with no end in sight. I justify this to myself in such pithy terms as inwardly repeating mantra like 'it goes with the territory'... 'it goes with the territory'... the territory of taking the line of most resistance. So, since my suspension in May 2009, my days and evening revolve principally around pouring over thousands of documents and emails provided by my former employer (in ET related matters known hereafter as The Respondent) under a Subject Access Request last November. This as well as a variety of online legal precedents and caselaw consume vast amounts of hours. But it has to be done in order to ensure that I have a fighting chance at the Employment Tribunal scheduled for next March.

Take two of these if the complaint persists

Money well spent

You may well ask why the UCU lawyers are not doing this particular joyous chore for me given my obvious former position as UCU branch Secretary and Casework Officer and lateral empty-pocket-edness (which has worryingly drawn both commentary and the odd bit of loose change from my local Big Issue seller). Yes it's an almost suicidal insistence and a bovine perspicacity that ensures that every month I continue payment of my monthly subscription to the UCU. But alas, satire it seems, has no role to play in the affairs of trade unionism.  I was informed last year that the union's lawyers would not be taking up my case for unfair dismissal. That seemed almost fair to me so I decided after weighing up my option to D.I.M. (do it meself). So in short, I've become all too familiar with a kettle, a toilet and the more arcane aspects of employment law. If we throw into the cauldron of opprobrium lashings of letter writing, job applications which also consume huge chunks of time, lots of telephone calls and a crash course in libel law, that pretty much sums up this thing that's euphemistically known these days as being.

However, I do get the odd spare minute to sit back and let my mind wander. My own personal experience and knowledge of the amount of work and time involved in building a case for an ET,  I marvel at those who fought their own corner before the advent of the electronic abacus. So much is readily accessible over the electronic ether these days. It has its down side as the limitless amounts of information at the end of a mouse means sifting through the irrelevant which also consumes vast chunks of one's life.

Thus, in between writing emails to Mr Matthew Stephenson, the Information Commissioner, emails to Mr Matthew Stephenson , the Employment Tribunal, emails to Mr Matthew Stephenson (he's getting a Christmas card this year), letters to two sets of University lawyers (one for the ET and one for the current libel proceedings), this blog and negotiating a route through the ins and outs of the various pieces of legislation around Freedom of Information, Data Protection and such like, by the end of the day I'm about as intellectually responsive as shell-bound Galapagian on heroin with massive egotistical pretensions towards facial topiary.

Well worth the effort
An exercise in futility?

I confess that I did glance through the bundle yesterday in between trying to look after my two and a half year old grand daughter whilst drinking copious amounts of coffee and urinating all too regularly, not all at the same time I might add. But there was no contest between epic documentary forays into allegations and precedent and the building of an incredibly life-like representation of Tidmouth Sheds out of wooden building bricks for Eleanor's rapidly expanding collection of Thomas the Tank Engine and Colleagues (academic version). This I do conscientiously so that she can simply knock them over without a second thought or a single care. In fact after several rebuilds I began to imagine exactly how a Russian repeat dissident felt after several years in Stalin's Defoian pillory - the Siberian slave labour camp - for producing Samizdat literature.

But today the sun is shining and I really could do with getting out on my bicycle. I raise my gaze from the huge bundle of documents, glance over at the tatty white canvas bag that contains the wooden building bricks. There they sit forlornly among a pile of discarded toys in the corner of the room. Eleanor will be here again tomorrow and despite its Sisyphean futility, rebuilding Tidmouth Sheds once again seems a much more fruitful labour.

I closed the folder and the lid of my laptop. Time for another coffee.

*Caution: mildly ironical and definitely not believed serious enough to warrant further libel proceedings
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