A few days ago, I opened a bottle of milk purchased at a local supermarket
and found a rat inside it. What should I do about this?
It is interesting that you do not say, "I opened a bottle of milk and found,
*to my horror*, a rat inside it." That is the usual form, and one which we in
the legal profession strongly recommend. If it was not to your horror, what
exactly *was* it to? If, for example, it was to your delight, then I am
afraid that I am ethically bound to advise you that there is little we can do
to screw the supermarket for every penny it has. Indeed, it could well be in
your interest to write a note of thanks to the shop, enclosing a nominal
cheque, in order to protect yourself against any claim on the part of the
supermarket for its rat back.
If, though, it was merely to your surprise, say, then there may well be
what we in the profession call a bob or two to be made out of it. Depending,
naturally, on the extent of your surprise: far be it from me to put ideas into
your head, but if the surprise was such that you fell back against a priceless
T'ang vase which, as it shattered, caused your prize chihuahua to snuff it,
then compensation could well be considerable. Whereas if you merely
exclaimed: "Bugger me, it's a rat!" I do not see much material advantage in
going before the courts.
Nor do you say whether or not the rat was dead. If the rat left the shop
alive and expired while in your charge, you could well find an action for
cruelty brought against you, with the result that you might well be prohibited
for life from keeping another rat. We in the legal profession should not,
were this the case, wish to touch you with a bargepole.
Why not write me another letter something along the lines of: "A few days
ago, I opened a bottle of milk purchased at a local supermarket, and to my
inexpressible horror and disgust found a dead rat inside it, since when I have
had no sleep, suffered fainting fits, been unable to hold anything on a
stomach which has always been sensitive, and lost all sexual interest. Can
you in the legal profession take the supermarket to the cleaners, not just for
me, but for decent human beings everywhere?"
I should like a divorce, but I cannot prove anything against my husband, I
am just sick of his face looking at me from behind things. What do I need to
prove my marriage has broken down irretrievably?
What you need to prove your marriage has broken down irretrievably is a
lawyer. The changes in the Divorce Laws were brought about expressly to make
these unsavoury matters easier for lawyers who, in the bad old days, often
spent years listening to appalling old ratbags going on about their spouses.
Frequently, we ourselves had to go to the bother of appointing private
detectives charged with invading cherished privacy, or actually find
unscrupulous women prepared to spend the night in tatty hotels with clients to
enable us to cobble together bogus misconduct charges. Sometimes, even, we
had to go to the repulsive lengths of taking incriminating photographs of
decent human beings who wanted nothing more than to get their leg across in
peace and quiet. Needless to say, all this filled the legal profession with
disgust; there is nothing worse than watching unqualified people --
photographers, security men, hotel staff -- cleaning up, when the rest of us
have spent years studying for smart diplomas. If I had my time over again, I
used to think, I'd buy a Polaroid camera and an old macintosh, and bugger
sitting around in pinstripe trousers: to this day, I have never seen anyone
else Doing It, and probably never shall, now.
Fortunately, the new divorce procedures have changed all that. To put the
complex legal niceties into a nutshell for the layman, what the latest
legislation means is that we get it all, and that we get it quickly. We do
not have to listen to long boring stories about how he gets drunk and hits you
with the bedside table, we do not have to interview dreary filing clerks that
he has knocked up, we do not have to spread the jam around to private eyes and
short-contract tarts and chamberpersons; all that we require is one piece of
paper from you saying you are sick and tired of his face looking at you from
behind things, plus several more pieces of paper saying I Promise To Pay The
Bearer Twenty Pounds, and we shall do the rest.==============================================================================
Dear Our Lawyer,
In the light of the Lee Marvin case, I was wondering if there might be
anything in it for me. While I am not exactly a mistress, there is no doubt
that the man from the flat upstairs has been down here and done it on three
occasions, to my certain knowledge. It occurred to me I might be entitled to
his stereo set, or his electric kettle at the very least. What is my position?
Firstly, I ought to tell you that the principle of Is There Anything In It For
Me? has no construction in law. It is not, thank God, the basis upon which
English Law is founded. That basis remains, Is There Anything In It For Us?
In your case, the law is still in a state of flux; which means, briefly,
that we haven't tried it on yet. As in so many other vital areas -- the
tinned martini, the mobile massage parlour, the cocaine aerosol -- American
Law is in the juridical vanguard, and it may well be years before the rest of
the world catches up. Take, for example, plea bargaining: American lawyers
may now take up to 25% of the damages they obtain for clients, but it could be
twenty years before English law rights the present injustice against its
unhappy practitioners, by which time their American brothers will doubtless be
carrying home 90% or more. Which is as it should be: after all, what good is
a million dollars to, say, a living vegetable? Can he buy a Maserati with it?
A power boat? A big Mulatto soubrette?
What I am trying to say is that whatever the final outcome of the Marvin
case, the lawyers involved will have found it worth bringing. In YOUR affair,
I would not even be allowed a go on the electric kettle, and my fee, to judge
from your letter written on the back of an unpaid United Dairies final demand,
would be little more than risible. However, the fee is not everything, and
what we may be looking at is a chance to write a new chapter in the history of
The best place to write it, in my professional view, would be either the
Sunday People or the Sun, depending on the quality of the snaps we manage to
arrange. As your lawyers, we should be more than happy to act as your agent
in the necessary negotiations, for the usual commission, and we look forward
eagerly to your instructions.
As to your final question, there's no answer to that! (Morecambe v. Wise,
Queen's Bench Division, 1971).==============================================================================
Dear Our Lawyer,
In June 1974, a tree root from the garden next door grew through the side
of our new polystyrene pond, causing subsidence to a gnome. My neighbour
refused to compensate me for the disaster, and my solicitor sought counsel's
advice. He recommended that I go to court; the case took five days, mainly
because a number of what my counsel described as fascinating legal points were
involved, and I lost it. Costs ran to five figures.
As I was short of money, I sought time to pay, and took a second job as a
nightwatchman, where, after three days, I was struck on the head with a lead
pipe. The company dismissed me, and counsel insisted that I sue them for
unfair dismissal. During the hearing, it transpired that I had been asleep
when struck on said head; the dismissal was upheld, and costs were given
against me. They were also given against me in the case I was advised to
bring against my other employer who had dismissed me on the grounds that I had
been off work for two weeks to attend a hearing about being unfairly dismissed
from my second job.
Now unemployed, I could not find new work due to shooting pains in head
where it had made contact with lead pipe; my lawyer sought compensation from
the Criminal Injuries Board, unsuccessfully, for which I had to pay him a
considerable fee. I was forced to sell my house, but did not get as much as
I had hoped because of legal fees involved, and since my wife did not fancy
living in two rooms, she left me, and sued for divorce on grounds of cruelty.
My lawyer strongly recommended that I defend the action, which I lost, the
costs being awarded to my wife, and as I left the court I tripped on a broken
paving-stone and dislocated my hip. My barrister, who had seen the incident,
immediately initiated a negligence suit against Westminster Council, who not
only won, but also successfully counterclaimed on the grounds that my hip had
struck a litter-bin as I fell which was damaged beyond repair.
So was my him; but the Medical Defence Union, defending the doctor I had
been advised to sue for malpractice, employed the services of three QC's, and
I had no chance, since I was now heavily overdrawn and could only afford to
defend the action myself. The case ran for three weeks, due to all the time
I spent limping backwards and forwards across the court.
I am about to go bankrupt. What I want to know is, is it possible to sue