According to this wikipedia article, Lord Aldington managed to join pro bono legal defenders for Nikolai Tolstoy as defendants in his libel lawsuit.

"In 1996 the Court of Appeal upheld an order Aldington had obtained that made lawyers acting for Tolstoy pro bono parties to the case, and thereby jointly liable with Tolstoy for any costs or damages awarded to Aldington."

How could this happen in the U.K.? Is this "normal" British justice, or was the law twisted to benefit a highly placed plaintiff? Could this happen in the US, Canada, Australia, or anywhere else in the English-speaking world?

Perhaps the issue is one of "champerty and maintenance," the theory being that the pro bono lawyers "subsidized" the defendant, and therefore had the means to pay. If that's the case, what's to prevent rich Englishmen from going around and suing poor people they dislike, knowing that the latter don't have the means to defend themselves?

  • If the last sentence is more than rhetorical; people who can't pay a lawyer won't be able to pay damages. Mar 31 '17 at 9:22
  • @TimLymington:Rich people can obtain"cease and desist" orders or other sanctions this way, even if unmerited by law. Unless I'm mistaken, they can scare, and therefore "quash" people who's actions they dislike.
    – Libra
    Mar 31 '17 at 14:40
  • The ruling was made on the grounds that it constituted "maintenance" a claim that has almost entirely been abolished in U.S. law but remains viable in the U.K.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 5 '17 at 23:34

I think Michael Flatley of "Riverdance" was accused of rape, countersued, and managed to get the opposing lawyer to court as well, with a judge saying that the lawyer knew that the whole case was just blackmail and a lawyer trying to help his client to blackmail somebody has no protection by the law. (The woman wanting about $30 million for rape damages ended up ordered to pay £11 million for libel).

So something like that may have happened here as well.

On the other hand, I heard of cases where a third party sponsoring a law case (by paying for lawyers etc. ) with the goal of benefitting from the case (even if it is just to get their money back) can become liable for damages. Basically if A with deep pockets gives B who has no cash money to sue C, and C wins, then C can try to get money back from the rich A, not only from the penniless B.


What is to prevent the rich from bullying the poor is the rule that if they lose (which with an unmeritorious lawsuit is likely) they will have to pay the costs of the defendants' expensive solicitors, who took on the case despite their clients' poverty because they knew that a successful defence would be paid for by the losing plaintiff. This is precisely the reason that the rules were changed in the 1990s, to allow conditional fee arrangements.

Unfortunately another problem rapidly appeared; poor applicants can demand money from rich people, knowing that going to court will cost the defendant more, both financially and in publicity, than paying up; even if the plaintiff is ordered to pay costs, he cannot pay what he has not got. You don't need a good case for this, just an unscrupulous solicitor; and shockingly it appears that there were some such around. There is no perfect solution, but one useful weapon was reviving the ancient rules against maintenance, by which 'investing' in a lawsuit in order to take a profitable cut of the damages was banned, as likely to clog up the justice system with speculative cases. The Lord Chancellor's Department (now the Ministry of Justice) has tried hard since then to balance the two problems (and simultaneously to reduce the legal aid bill for political reasons); how successful they have been depends on who you ask.

And any judge in any country has the power to add a party to the case if it would benefit justice; whether adding lawyers purely so that they can be responsible for the costs is such a benefit depends on the system. Without such a rule (and of course the power to direct unreasonable costs to be paid by the person who caused them win or lose, which exists even in most American states though it may be rarely used), there would be nothing to prevent both rich plaintiffs bullying poor defendants and poor plaintiffs blackmailing rich defendants.

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