Litigants sadly often have good cause to bitterly regret their decision to dispense with lawyers and fight their own cases in court. A judge powerfully made that point in the case of a farming couple embroiled in a dispute with a company intent on repairing a pipeline running beneath one of their fields.
In the 1970s, previous owners of the field granted the company a 99-year lease of a strip of land under which the pipeline was laid. The company wished to enter the field to effect repairs. The couple, however, said that they would only permit entry to parts of the field other than the strip itself if certain pre-conditions were met, including the advance payment of compensation for any damage that might be caused by the works.
After the company launched proceedings, the judge noted that the commercial purpose of the lease was to enable the company to lay the pipeline and look after it thereafter. On its true reading, the lease granted the company a right to enter not only the strip but other parts of the field to which access was required in order to carry out the repair works. That right of entry was exercisable without the couple’s consent.
The lease obliged the company to put right or pay compensation for any damage caused by the works and to indemnify the couple against any costs, claims or liabilities to which they gave rise. However, there was no requirement on the company to pay the couple anything before gaining entry to the field.
In granting the company a permanent injunction requiring the couple to allow it entry to the field in accordance with the lease, the judge noted that they had chosen to represent themselves in court. The company had positively urged them to take legal advice and had even offered to contribute £400 towards the cost of them doing so. It was, in all the circumstances, unfortunate that they did not take up that offer. Had they done so, the need for expensive litigation might have been avoided.