England: Elderly man subjected to Kafkaesque trial in magistrates’ court

England: Elderly man subjected to Kafkaesque trial in magistrates’ court

An elderly man has succeeded in challenging the procedural fairness of a hearing in which he was subjected to an experience reminiscent of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, his lawyer said.

In 2019, Dr Denis Paling appeared at Ipswich Magistrates Court in a case concerning unpaid council tax relating to a leasehold property in the town.

He sought to challenge a liability order made in favour of Mid-Suffolk District Council. He failed and in October last year sought judicial review of the decision; he was permitted to apply in relation to the fairness of the hearing.

The statement of facts made on behalf of Dr Paling, 76, stated that the solicitor stood with “his back to the applicant and spoke in a very low voice, which only the bench could hear”.

The respondent’s solicitor “could not be heard from the applicant’s place”, meaning he could not answer the respondent’s submission.

The statement adds: “When the applicant several times expressed concern that he could not hear the chairman of the justices took no measures to enable the applicant to hear the respondent’s solicitor, as in Franz Kafka’s Der Process (The Trial).”

He was refused permission to make an oral submission and when he expressed concern the chairman threatened to dismiss his application.

Farhan Asghar, counsel for the claimant, explained that Dr Paling has various medical conditions, suffered from strokes and has had cancer. He submitted the treatment of his client amounted to a breach of the rules of natural justice.

David Pittaway QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, said in his judgment: “Standing back and reaching an independent view, I have concluded that the claim for judicial review succeeds.”

He added that a “fair minded and informed observer would conclude in this case that justice had not been seen to be done”. The case was remitted to the magistrates to be heard by a different bench.

Published posthumously in 1925, The Trial is one of Franz Kafka’s best known works. It tells the story of Josef K., who is arrested and prosecuted for unknown reasons. He eventually comes to a gruesome end.

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