15 May 2015

Squatting in Pall Mall? Not on our watch! Part two.

All seems to be going well but there is a sting in the tail.  Due to a technical irregularity with the Order, the Court is unable to process it.  If it is not processed, the hearing on Tuesday cannot go ahead as planned.   With only 10 minutes before the Court is due to close, Ros frantically tries to go before another judge to have the matter resolved but to no avail.   The counter blinds are drawn, the Court doors are slammed shut and locked securely (no risk of squatters at this building).  Workers are starting to pour out of offices, to enjoy the summer's like evening.  Concerns mount as to the squatters' intentions and the chaos that might ensue.

Faced with having to remedy the problem on Monday (and delaying the hearing), the only alternative is to resort to the the emergency "out of hours" Judge to plead for the Master's mistake to be remedied, the risk being that the Judge will say that such an application is not worthy of the 'out of hours' procedure.  The "out of hours" Judge sits at home somewhere, dealing with queries as and when they arise.  He or she cannot be contacted directly. Like access to a secret speakeasy, we have to obtain the telephone number of the Judges clerk and wait to be called back. We wait, and wait, and wait until finally at 9.30pm, we have a telephone conference call with the Judge.  The situation is explained and he willingly grants our request and within five minutes the problem is resolved and we are back on track for a hearing on Tuesday.  The Judge says he will email us the amended Order straightaway. After getting lost in cyberspace, we receive it at 10.30pm and, at 11pm, finally head home. 

The next challenge is to serve the squatters with the proceedings on Saturday morning before 11am.  With her cappuccino in hand, Ros calmly collates the papers at home for the process server to collect from her house.  There is plenty of time in hand…..until it transpires that last minute documents cannot be printed as the printer has run out of ink.  Suddenly, time flies by….9am, 9.15am, 9.30am, 9.45am.  Hearts start to thump very hard.  Tension rises in the marital home.  After a minor car crash in a rush to buy a new ink cartridge,  the proceedings are served on the squatters in time and brows are wiped clear of residual sweat.  The rest of the weekend passes by without incident (but does include a few stiff drinks).

The day of the hearing arrives. Georgina Haddon, trainee in Property Litigation, attends with Counsel for what she has been reassured will be a straightforward hearing.  Having established with great relief that the police-monitored protest outside the Court is unrelated to this case, Georgina's heart sinks again upon realising that nine of the squatters have arrived ready for their day in court.  After a hearing of over an hour (most possession hearings are dealt with in 20-30 mins) the squatters' somewhat spurious defence and their request for an appeal (the cheek of it!) are dismissed and the order for possession granted.  One week after Forsters' initial instruction and after a brief stand off,  the squatters are removed and the property secured.  Fortunately, on this occasion, the damage to the property is minimal with only a few broken windows and minor internal damage.  Celebrations all round and more High Fives.

Back at the office, the rest of the week throws up the usual property litigation work. Just as Ros is preparing to leave on Friday, her colleague receives a phone call.  She hears him questioning  "When did they get in? How many of them are there?".  A different client, a different property…but the same squatters!  They have decamped to a property on Dean Street and, so, the battle begins again. 

Written by Ros Cullis and Georgina Haddon

"I have always been impressed with the quality and speed of service and thoroughness - the latter is critical."
Chambers UK, 2016
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