Lawyers, I have always felt, are about as straight as Quasimodo's coat hanger. And news that the UK is going down the US path of 'no win, no fee' litigation should strike fear into the heart of any sane computer dealer.
In the US, litigation is not just a hobby but a compulsive disorder worthy of the finest psychopath. If you're not suing someone or severing their heads, you're just not living. This is evidenced by the fact that the US now has more lawyers than the rest of the world collectively.
There are almost 800,000 of them, or about 300 for every 100,000 citizens - compared to 82 in the UK. Indeed, such is the litigation frenzy that every year more than 90 million lawsuits are filed, one for every 2.5 people. Which is why the recent case of Delroy Soares of Small Heath, Birmingham, should provide a cautionary tale.
If you haven't read about it, the circumstances are thus: Del Boy spent #47 on a CD-Rom drive, only to claim the device was faulty. Tests proved otherwise, but nonetheless Del Boy launched a #3,000 damages claim for stress and the dietary inconvenience of missing meals while travelling to court by bus.
When his claim was dismissed, the Brummie Trotter went into warp-speed litigation, issuing writs exempt of court fees as a housing benefit claimant.
He sued the original judge and issued about 200 summonses against most of the other wigs on the Birmingham circuit. Finally, Tony Blair got a writ as well, though quite how the PM was to blame for the faulty CD-Rom drive was never that clear. Doubtless, Cherie explained.
It was a fiasco that cost taxpayers #20,000 in judicial costs before a certain Mr Justice Owen finally chucked out Del Boy's actions as 'vexatious'.
Del Boy, at the last count, was asking police to issue arrest warrants against all the judges in Birmingham. Meanwhile, the unnamed dealer who sold him the drive is reported to have offered him a #47 refund as a goodwill gesture, presumably before slashing his wrists.
But just think. Had this been the US, not only would the dealer have had to contend with the Trotter Tort Machine, but there would have been Sly Slick Law Associates straight on the phone, seeking to weasel a few dollars under the no win, no fee practise. Perhaps the only solution for dealers is to get in first, establishing a Nutters' Database with details of anorak barcodes. Should a suspect customer seek to buy equipment, immediately refuse to sell it but instead offer it free.
If it's a corporate nutter, just hand over the keys to the premises rather than bother with litigation. If, though, the nutter is sporting a wig and fetching garter and is obviously not a transvestite, it could be he's a judge - and then you really are in trouble.
In that case, I suggest you contact a certain Delroy Soares of Birmingham. He's probably got his own law practice by now.
Dave Evans is features editor of Computing.
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