The amater lawyer and open sors softwer.

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( Kapital-i, in 'I, myself', now spels Il as in isle or aisle.
Leter y spels sym for seem or seam and partys for parties.
Leter w spels swn for soon. )



Refering to other profesions nyding amaters.

This is not a diskusion for the experts but for pepl hw no as litl as me, if posibl. Tho, tImly koment wud be welkom. Paul Harrison's bwk The Third World Tomorrow show'd wI the expensiv expert must mak way for amaters suficiently train'd to myt the esential nyds of al in sosiety, not just a rich elit. If they dont, relyf for the very pwr is postpon'd indefinitly.

Harrison also pointed out the lesons for our over-develop'd Western models of sosiety. BesIds his bwk, I reviw'd the relevans of jeneral training in esentials to Britain's over-strain'd helth servis and edukation system. Also, thys and other publik servises, as wel as bisneses, ar belyger'd by burokrasy.

This paj givs tw mor exampls ( komputer programing and legal redres ) of the jeneral nyd to mak praktikal nolej mor fryly availabl.

'the law's delay' and the firms' delay.

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The Law has byn kal'd 'the oldest klos'd shop of them al'. For instans, ther hav byn komplaints about the minimal redres from the Law Sosiety of komplaints about members of its profesion.

A sentury erlier, in Bleak House, Dickens frankly stated that the kaus of 'the law's delay' ( as Shakespeare kal'd it ) is that it pays.
Henry Fielding was a majistrat as wel as a novelist. In Tom Jones, he has a karakter fwlishly desir to su, til her husband remonstrats that it wud put a job the way of ther lawyer relativ, but it wudnt do them any gud.

Nowadays, Britain has a 'Sitizen's Charter' to enshur standards of sivil servis. Yu wud think senarios, lIk the folowing, mIt be avoided.
Yor smal klaims kais eventualy koms up for trial, after som fw months. Yu houp it wont tak mor than an hour, at lawyers' charjes. But the juj desIds it wil tak longer. The juj ajurns the kais, for a leiter dayt in the krowded kort tIm-tabl. On the sekond hyring, the juj kan't desId to giv a verbal verdikt in kort. A gud wIl leiter, a riten verdikt is mayd. Yu fail to get the refund, yu alredy twk several months trIing to obtain from the firm.

The juj givs the defending firm yet another chans to mak amends, on ther terms. But the firm is so big and bisy that they fail to kolekt the produkt for re-servising. The defendant had said they wud do the servising in ther own tIm. But they twk so long, they'd evidently over-lwk'd yu.
Yu go bak to the kort and klaim the kost of servising, to be don by som other firm. The juj, at lyst, has alow'd for this in his verdikt. But it kosts yu another fy. You klaim this kost, tw, wich waiks up yor seler vehemently to refws to pay it, wIl promising to kolekt the produkt for re-servising.

MynwIl, yu ar put under presur to giv-in to the seler, bekaus ther lokal kort has not kolekted the payment from them, such as the verdikt gav yu a rIt to, if the seler didnt servis the produkt.
The klaimant's lokal kort told yu, the klaimant, to kom bak if yu didnt resyv the servis from the defendant. But wen yu return to yor lokal kort, yu ar told, insted, to rIt to the defending firm's lokal kort to kolekt the default payment for defendant's failur to servis.

After several leters and months leiter, the defendant's lokal kort tel yu, the klaimant to go bak to yor lokal kort to mak the request. Only on the prompting of yor lokal kort dos the defendant's kort pay the verdikt's default payment, plus kort fy for having to demand it.

At som point in this run-around, that the korts giv the klaimant, a staf member apolojises, tho she is undoutedly uon of the fw pepl in the houl dismal afair, yu find no fault with. However, som man doing bisnes with the kort, at the saim tIm, over-hyrs, and not minding his own bisnes, puts in a gud word for the kort system. His dismisiv maner, about any nyd for the kort to apolojIs, sujests a kosy relationship with them. No dout, som pepl do very wel out of the system, if not thos hw it is ment for.

We ar talking about eityn months fail'd atempts to get a resolution to a sub-standard sail, either on uon's own terms or even the defendant's terms.


Pit-fals awaiting the amater lawyer.

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Traditionaly, the law has byn regarded as the frend of the rich. At the aij of fIv or so I was told that yu shud never hav anything to do with lawyers. They wernt for ordinary folk. No justis kud be expekted from them -- only fys uon kudnt aford.

Eventualy, the law was chanj'd for the les wel-off to tak minor komplaints to kort, without inkuring hevy kosts. Or that was the theory of 'smal klaims korts'. The praktis kan turn out diferently. In my sekond leter to the Wakeham report, such konsiderations wer part of a kais for konstitutional reform.


Hyr, I wish to warn the ordinary sitizen of posibl pit-fals to being uon's own sivil lawyer, say, in syking rekompens for faulty guds or pwr servis, of the kind brot up on the konsumer watch-dog television and radio kal-in programs.
The Daily Mail ran tw on-lIn komputer isyus on the subject of: Dos any-uon ker about the pwr kustomer? The pres depends on lavish advertising by chain retailers, hw may hav byn investigated, mor than uons, as a monopoly. So, this verdikt, after a flud of konsumer sob storys, was not Idl.

Suposing uon, hwm the gods wud destroy, is mad enuf to risk taking a klaim to kort. Ther ar several things to konsider befor uon begins. Firstly, is uon's klaim just? Was the person or firm, uon is making a klaim against, given a proper chans to mak redres or kompensat uon or mak rysonabl amends? Dos uon's gryvans ryly demand the drastik step of going to kort? In jeneral, has uon got a gud konsiens about uon's bisnes dylings? Has uon-self byn fer in uon's dylings with the defendant, uon is klaiming against?

To test uon's klaim, uon kan syk an apointment with the 'Citizen's Advice Bureau.' If they ar not impres'd, a juj or arbiter is unlIkly to be. Yu may also lern, ther, wat law to plyd with. In the first instans, advis may be about geting the firm to akt on yor komplaint without nesesarily having to go to kort. Other help may get yu to marshal yor arguments, making them forsful and to the point.

( Much to the advisers' displesur, the korts may trI to yus them as unpaid lawyers for the sitizen klaimant, faising the profesionals in the smal klaims kort. )

Is ther a law that unambiguusly says klaimants, or plaintifs, ar within ther rIts, say, to return sub-standard guds or hav a refund for bad servis? If yu ar taking on som big multipl firm, they wil hav a department of lawyers, just to kowp with pepl lIk yu. Yu hav to giv them proper notis that if they dont giv kustomer satisfaktion, then you may tak legal aktion.

They may not setl. Ther replI may stait the relevant Akt of Parliment that kovers yor kais. This may be a konsumer protektion akt. But yu dont tak ther word for it. Remember, yor oponents' lawyers ar the profesionals and no al the triks. Yu ar the amater, hws first tIm mistaks kan and wil dwm yor kais. Insted, yu'v kontakted the Trading Standards Ofiser. After yu'v explain'd yor komplaint, he may tel yu, even befor yu ask, the exakt akt upon wich yor afidavit or formal komplaint must be bais'd.

Yu may find that the most relevant akt is an amended version, mor strongly in yor favor than the orijinal akt. So, in this instans, yu wud folow the trading standards ofiser's advis of submiting yor afidavit under a given konsumer protektion akt as amended. This amendment mIt involv giving the kustomer a longer tIm to return faulty guds, hws stait is not aparent at first.

Of kors, yor big korporat oponent nos al about this. As a mater of kors, any komplaints yu mak bak to ther stor may be met with frustration and delay. The longer yu kan be kept with the produkt, yu ar unhapy with, the mor yor konsumer rIts ar eroded. The wors the servis, the les strong yor legal position to klaim redres.

The firm's staf may be nIs enuf pepl but, as just uon mor kustomer, yu may be fer gaim in the batl to maintain ther turn-over, profits and jobs, to ern the living we al syk.

Perhaps uon of the worst mistaks of the amater lawyer is to asum that al yu hav to do is present al yor arguments and the juj wil sy yu hav an over-welming kais. Mor lIkly, he wil be over-welmed by al the verbiaj and mis the most important points, in his desision, wen it is tw leit to korekt him. Jujes hav mountains of evidens to travers in ther jobs and kan not be expekted to remember every-thing about yor litl gryvans. Yu hav to gId the juj on the best trail thru yor kais, so he dosnt lws his way to yor main points.
The leser points kan be apended to yor main staitment, in kais they ar nyded to anser questions put by the juj or defending lawyer.


Kosts awaiting the smal klaimant.

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Having serch'd uon's konsiens wether uon is ryly in the rIt, just as krucial is wether uon has the evidens to prov it. If uon kan not mak a konvinsing kais, ther is no point in wasting uon's mony prosekuting it. Dont be begIl'd by smal klaims kort lyflets saying uon dosnt nyd the kind of kast-iron kais requir'd for a ful kort of law.

Mor to the point, the lyflets insist that, for any teknolojikal produkt wich fails to myt standards, the plaintif or klaimant wil nyd an expert report mayd independently of uon's own influens. It musnt be from family, frend or employy. This is expensiv. In the leit nIntys, yu wud hav to pay a komputer expert 40 per hour for the report. A richly paid English juj may think yu shud hav had him on hand in kort -- stil at 40 per hour. If yu wanted a lawyer to handl yor kais, that was then 80 per hour.
Yu wil pay the going rait, anyway, for hiring the juj. If yu lws the kais, that fy is forfyt. In ansering yor sumons to kort, the firm's lawyer may ask the juj for kompensation of at lyst that amount, at the klaimant's expens.
Wel mIt yu say: I thot this was supos'd to be a smal klaims kort!

But that is not the end of the expenses, the smal klaimant may be up against. Ther is no rul that the big firm may not bring its own employ'd expert witnes. Ther ryly dos sym to be uon law for the litl man and an other for big bisnes. But a fw firms so dominat the market, it hardly syms worth going to an other uon's expert staf. Non of them ar lIkly to sId with the publik.

The klaimant may konsult a smal independent bisnes for expert advis but it is not in ther interest to go against the jiants of ther industry. Even so, befor the kais koms to kort, the defendant may trI to disuad the klaimant from syking independent advis, expekting the kustomer to trust ther own qualifI'd employy. And that, despIt the fakt that the law denIs the disatisfI'd kustomer any yus of dependants or asociats for expert advis.
It is lIk a batl of wils, in wich the defendants trI to tak over yor kais and kondukt it on ther own terms.

The firm also sends its own lawyer, hw asks the juj that travel expenses of up to several hundred pounds also be awardabl to his firm against the klaimant. Presumably, the korts no that if klaimants had to pay thys travel expenses to go to the firm's lokal kort, most pepl far from London, or wer-ever, wud waiv ther statutory rIts. The korts wud lws much bisnes and justis wud be syn not to be don but to be lokalis'd.

The defendant firm may even yus yor kais as a chans to run in a trainy lawyer, skribling down the prosydings, as if his lIvlihud depended on it. That is thry against uon in the kort rwm and yor oponent is a provider of employment to the system yu ar being ajudikated under. The firm's lawyers ar uon of them, as far as the profesion of jujes is konsern'd. Mor-over, the firm's expert is an other profesional, hws opinion mIt wel also be dym'd of mor weit than the amater klaimant.

In al probability, the juj admitedly nos nothing about the teknikalitys of a given kais. He redily turns to the only expert on hand, that of the defending firm, wich may hav byn the way they wanted things al along. It may be that the klaimant's mas of evidens simply dos not wei, in the juj's mind, against expert testimony. However much the defendant's expert may stand on his dignity, the klaimant's kais bekoms only as gud as his oponent's teknikal witnes alows it to be. LIk a politician, he has to desId wether or not it is prudent to buk his firm's party lIn, at al.
Wat klaimant wud wish to so put himself at the mersy of his oponents?

We liv in a kultur of profesionalism. The smal klaims kort is an experimental intrusion of amaters, wich jujes may not think much of. Law and teknolojy, in ther ways, ar hIly qualifI'd okupations. He may fyl that the man in the stryt gets no mor than he deservs for intruding into the preserv of specialists. The amater may be regarded automatikly as 'no beter than he shud be.'

We kom to the krux of wI amater klaims may not work or be alow'd to work. It reminds of lokal interest grups or komunitys trIing to fIt the desisions of ther lokal authority to welkom som out-sId 'developer' and ther mega-buks, lIk the post-kolonialism of som multi-national korporation draining third world kuntrys of ther resorses. Suposedly independent arbitration only syms, to the lokals, to ruber-stamp the oficial kais.
Such arbitration is lIk being deliver'd into the hands of uon's enemys.

The klaimant only wanted to return his purchas and get his mony bak, or klaim a refund from a servis that fail'd to deliver its promises. But his litl kontest syms to implI much mor. It bekoms an indItment of the klaimant. He is kros-examin'd by the defending lawyer and okasionly by the juj.
If he anser'd al the questions, he may stil find to his surpris and chagrin that a juj's riten verdikt slIts his evidens, and even his karakter, over a mater that kud hav byn simply klyr'd up, wer ther any oportunity to do so. Som mor takt may be requir'd of a juj, hyr.

This is an isyu distinkt from the question of lojing an apyl against the juj's desision. The sums involv'd in a smal klaim dont justifI re-trial.

Open sors softwer.

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WIl the houl point of the korts is that tw kontending partys agry to defer to a juj or arbiter's desision, the juj may defer to the authority of the larj firm's expert. For instans, a komputer firm lays down the law that it wil only refund or replas sold items that hav hardwer faults but not if they only have softwer faults or 'problems' -- they tend not to yus words lIk 'faults'.

Ther is nothing in English konsumer law to justifI this distinktion. A fault is a fault. Yet the juj kan over-rul statyut law and may go along with komputer firm law. After al, they ar the experts, arnt they?
Indyd they ar. And juj and novis komputer bIer dont no any-thing to kontradikt them. But it turns out that softwer 'problems', to yus the yufemism, may not be so strait-forward. Aparently, uon ryson is, in a freis, klos'd sors softwer.
Any-uon hw has bilt a web sIt nos that to chanj the lwk of it, yu hav to viw its sors paj. But yu kan not do that with the almost universal Microsoft Windows Operating System. Its sors is klos'd.

In jeneral, komputer programers had best be abl to sy the sors of the softwer, its aktual lojikal struktur, to debug it. At any rait, the aktual rIter of a program is in the best position to put it rIt. It turns out that komputer specialists may not find korekting softwer programs a rutyn job. They ar liabl to charj yu a kupl of hours just to lwk at it, al at ful raits, without promising results afterwards.

A jouk about wI hakers, under fals pretenses, obtain'd Microsoft's sors kouds is that Windows has so many bugs in it, they wer driven to desperat mesurs to put them rIt. At uon point, the Microsoft korporation was reported -- by The Guardian -- as saying that Linux was ( ther ) publik enemy number uon. Its koud author jokingly talks about 'world domination'. Linux is an open sors operating system. Dont ask me mor. Obviusly, I arnt a programer. But I havnt the slItest dout that the futur is with open sors. Tho, at the tIm of rIting, even Linux syms not yet yuser-frendly enuf to bekom the norm for unskil'd hom yusers.

If they wer wIs, Microsoft wud mak ther Windows Operating System into open softwer, wIl they'r stil ahed. OtherwIs, we hav the saim old story of the supos'd advantaj of an impos'd uniform standard over the kreativ frydom to modifI.

The konflikt may be kompar'd with the ded hand of konvention that rests on English speling, in al its aberations, wich lyv so many iliterat.
Similarly, the availability of open sors operating systems or other programs wud alow pepl to lern beter how they work. Rather than tryting komputer programs as majik, mor pepl wud bekom akustom'd to sy ther lojik. Program-literasy wud be stimulated.


The moral, uons again, is the nyd to spred important skils, lIk advokasy or programing, thru-out sosiety. The spred of literasy mayd rIters les of an exklusiv profesion. Teknolojikal advanses ar lIkly to repyt this kreativ enfranchisment in the visual and musikal arts. The saim nyds to be don, in esentials, for al the profesional skils that larjly afekt sosiety.




Richard Lung.



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