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The Peoples Friend – Master Bell

Lest anyone get the impression that I am a crane climbing, superhero costume wearing, purple powder throwing, card carrying member of any of the F4J’s; unable to say anything positive about members of the judiciary, this post should go some way to disavow readers of that notion. Regular readers of the blog will recall that I reported on a positive experience involving Master Redpath before, so I feel I have a history of giving credit where it’s due to members of the judiciary.

Our regulars will also recall that I have been  bleating on for over a year about a litigant in person list, so that litigants know when they are on. More like a doctors surgery, and none of this dozens of cases listed for 9.30am nonsense, and the poor self litigant not getting in until all the clever lawyers have finished their machinations around midday.

Whilst that experience some while back with Master Redpath wasn’t totally unpleasurable, it wasn’t anywhere close to how I am used to being treated in England and Wales.  The experience today in front of Master Bell in Belfast was much closer to how it should be done.

Do read on…

I was in front of Master Bell in an Ancillary Relief case that I had been asked to assist in at short notice.  My client had run out of funds, owed their lawyers some money and had to represent themselves.  [ Experienced McKenzie friends and lay advocates with be thinking ” WHAT ABOUT THE FILE?? HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET THE FILE IF A LIEN IS EXERCISED ON IT???” Well you lot in the cheap seats can just shut up and let me get  on with my account of this hearing].

I hadn’t perused any of the papers in this long running case, and as my client had very recently parted company with their solicitor, there weren’t any papers to read beyond the usual ragtag shopping bag full of papers that clients seem to accumulate. I didn’t even have time to read them anyhow.

Arriving around 9.20am I knocked on Master Bell’s door and introduced myself to him, and shortly thereafter the other sides solicitor popped their head round the door. Following my submission that I would be grateful if my client could be heard first, Master Bell invited us to find counsel and return anon.

Master Bell listened to everything that my client had to say, and I at least left feeling that we had been heard. I was also impressed that Master Bell also scolded counsel on more than one occasion for attempted point scoring, instead of this faux joint telling off that some Magistrates such as Mr Magill seem predisposed to give.  Master Bell also let me speak on behalf of my client and the hearing had a very collaborative  feel to it. I must also commend counsel for quickly grasping that the case couldn’t proceed. All in all, a relatively stress free introduction for my client to the challenging job of self representation.

Although I wouldn’t dream of being so bold as to suggest this formally, if I were Sir Declan Morgan, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, I would have no hesitation in appointing Master Bell to any future committee considering how to respond to the increasing numbers of litigants in person in the Northern Ireland family courts. Master Bell did a fantastic job today, and I commend him for his even handed approach; and I have every expectation that we will get a fair hearing in front of him if the case can’t be settled by negotiation.





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