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Letter to the editor – Justice! The Thai way – or the British way?

Tourists come to Thailand expecting paradise, orphanages and corruption. By and large they don’t go home disappointed although they do realize after their stay that the Thais are really quite wealthy contradictory to the BBC’s research. The other misconception is that the West is a role model worth following when it comes to corruption and fighting it. What they don’t realize…or probably do is that Western corruption comes dressed in a suit and tie in the form of authority, whether it be governmental or otherwise. Worse still suit and ties almost always win and to revolt against them brings you right up against the law.

Our governments file what is commonly perceived as corruption under tax, so it’s not even negotiable. Parking tickets for example can equate to what some Thais earn in six months, its exorbitant outrageous and unreasonable, but no one has any choice but to pay. If you don’t they can even crush your car which is no different to the Thai way of taking the boys around with large hammers to smash your vehicle to pieces. There is a subtle difference though that being that you could probably negotiate down with a Thai. The UK suit and tie brigade are totally unapproachable and they even set up call centres in India and other obscure places to put them beyond reproach leaving you frustrated broke and probably with a large phone bill just to add insult to injury.

The tourists say they only pay about 33% tax until it’s pointed out that they also pay other taxes. ‘Yes but that’s not much’ they point out until its highlighted (using the UK as an example) that there is National insurance, VAT at a staggering 20%, airport tax, council tax and stealth taxes such as insurance, parking tickets etc. It adds up closer to 70% which may explain why their credit cards are maxed out and an application for a new one is in the post.

Then there’s the tax by deception, NHBC guarantees on new housing is an upstanding example. This tax/guarantee means that when the house falls down the organization will step up and sort the whole thing out, right? Wrong! The NHBC lift a staggering 6% of the build cost for such a piece of paper from your pocket at the end of the build. Surely it should be free, not even the Thais would have the gall to try on such a scam. Anyway, after you’ve reluctantly parted with your thousands its noteworthy that the settlement is not forthcoming after the house collapsed, Instead a lawyers letter appears to informs you that surveys, tests etc need to be done first.

This is a thinly veiled stalling technique and after sometimes years of waiting the court room looks like the only way out except you’ve inadvertently funded the NHBC’s legal costs. It’s reminiscent of the Don King/Mike Tyson contract where if Tyson sued King and won Tyson would have to pay any damages incurred by…you’ve guessed it, King. Technically Tyson sued himself and still lost! So, yet another example of Western justice and fair play.

But we possess British law which defends the innocent and is surely is afar cry from the Thai courts.

British law is respected across the globe and British people generally are thought to be very upfront and honest. Lawyers are expected to step in should matters deviate from this path and put things right. The public expect and presume all lawyers to be, well, British. For reassurance that this cornerstone of our democracy can be monitored and we have the Solicitors Regulatory Association (SRA) to prevent a few bad apples ruining the system. Better still we have the Legal Ombudsman (LO) to keep an eye on things as well.

Unfortunately this cosy peace of mind is baseless.

The SRA is funded by lawyers, so it is a form of self regulation which never works when money is involved and the LO, say they have no teeth to do anything but put bad service to rights. This means that fraud or other serious crimes by lawyers are not covered. Upon further investigation it is revealed that they have only acted against a law firm in 2% of the cases. That in itself is a pretty demoralising statistic as you press the send button with your e mail complaint.

The LO have it in writing that any fraud cases should be passed onto the SRA who in turn have it in writing that they do not deal with fraud cases even though their web site states otherwise. When push comes to shove they both openly admit that they can only offer advice to the offending law firms on how to do things properly next time. That’s like telling Hitler that he was a naughty boy and dont invade Europe again.

Basically lawyers can do as they please if the aggrieved party hasn’t vast sums of cash and time to pursue the offending lawyers directly; and even then few lawyers are willing to take on a case against ‘their own’.

So that leaves the Police who will inform you after many tedious mails that they have no time limit in which to get back to you. To get that in writing is exasperating. They could take years and are happy to admit it as they freely do, if you phone. The person you speak to is merely a talking voice with no power or experience…a messenger in other words. To have a discussion at this point is a total waste of time, but they do write a nice reassuring e mail back explaining how you got nowhere.

To prove a point the following experience shows how clients can be given the run around. This particular case is ongoing and was initiated three years ago.

Its particularity alarming as it shows how not even property is safe should an unscrupulous lawyer become involved, and property is the foundation of the entire UK economy as banks use it as collateral in almost every lending agreement.

So, a person, Mr Snelson had his property transferred to another party, which wouldn’t raise many eyebrows normally. The problem was Mr Snelson didn’t know about it!

His existing lawyer (T) had used an old and out of date (and factually incorrect) contract which he used to pass the property onto his friend. This was done by carefully inserting his friends name and a fictitious price on the deeds/contract… four years later. The lawyer (T) then put down Mr Snelson (who was the lawyers client over a 24 year period) as ‘missing’ to the land registry who went on to accept the contact as lawyers are presumed trustworthy and accountable. But as Mr Snelson found out they actually are not that accountable. After pressing land registry with an explanation of what happened they referred Mr Snelson to… the police who as we now know could take years!

Mr Snelson then saw the cavalry in the form of no win no fees lawyers. Desperate (as Mr Snelson’s lawyers had in effect transferred all of his assets/money to his friend) Mr Snelson was willing to give anything to get something back from what was now looking like a lost cause. Worse still was that Mr Snelsons’s friends didn’t believe his story as surely lawyers cant get away with such daylight robbery, they were British after all.

So with Mr Snelson willing to give away half his property the proceedings began. Then they stopped abruptly as Mr Snelson’s lawyers, T, made up a bogus debt from years gone by and refused to pass on any papers (which by law belong to Mr Snelson as a client) until this debt was paid. That could be a case in itself requiring, yes you’ve guessed it, lawyers and money. Lawyers T had also brought in a specialist (and very expensive) lawyer built for such occasions, to put as much mud in front of Mr Snelson’s trail as possible. He was proving to be worth his money.

Mr Snelson’s ‘free’ lawyers then said they could no longer proceed unless fees were paid to them, which was not the reason why Mr Snelson went to this firm in the first place. They advised Mr Snelson to go to the SRA.

Mr Snelson now knew the SRA had only prosecuted 2% of the cases put before them and he probably presumed them to be Stalin and Hitler. He is still in pursuit of his property.

There are words of caution here as Mr Snelson lived abroad and had no fear of being counter sued on false grounds. There are many cases of no win no fee lawyers putting in excessive fees. It is also noteworthy that if an accused party with funds takes on the accuser without funds through the high court and not the county court, the accuser will still be liable for their own legal bill, win or lose. High courts are phenomenally expensive and a place no ordinary person should ever end up in. So it’s a big gamble, and one regular visitor to these high courts (a very large corporate company) advised that judges decisions are sometimes ‘not easy to understand’, so it really is a game of roulette in there. There is of course legal aid, but that is made very difficult to obtain in personal financial matters.

Therefore it would not seem unreasonable to conclude that amnesia and ignorance of what really goes on in the UK is giving Thailand and other ‘Third World’ countries a bad name.

ho.complaints@legalaid.gsi.gov.uk legal aid.

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