Couple fined $500,000 after trying to get neighbor declared insane in fight over 12" strip of land

A couple in England waged a "troubling and sinister" five-year campaign against a neighbor, reports the Express newspaper—all over a tiny 12-inch path by their properties in a delightful Kent village.

Banker Peter Bayliss and wife Kim even tried to get Sarah Saxton committed to hospital under Britain's mental health laws, after the elderly woman refused to let them extend their yard into the shared right-of-way. In one incident, Saxton was “violently grabbed and shaken by her neighbour” when she attempted to use it herself.

The Baylisses now face fines and costs of £338,000 (almost $500,000) imposed by a judge, who lamented the "sheer awfulness" of their conduct.

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  1. Kimmo says:

    Jolly good show, what.

  2. And this is precisely why we have right-of-way covenants, to protect us from the evil lawn patchers who would extend their dominion across the stars unchecked, if not for the few, the brave old ladies who hold up their outstretched hand and pronounce a fierce, stern, "no!"

  3. A banker, no less. Greed knows no bounds and no shame.

  4. And it's NOT EVEN HIS YARD yet; he's just set to inherit it from his mom.

  5. (Background: I'm an English barrister, with experience of boundary dispute and nuisance/harassment cases.)

    I've found the full judgment; unfortunately, for now it's only available on a subscription service (Lawtel) as it's from a level of court lower than that where judgments routinely get put onto BAILII. However, I'd hope that it gets made openly available soon as it's an interesting case on the level of damages appropriate in harassment claims under English law.

    From the comments it's clear that some readers, especially in the USA, may find the English approach to damages and costs confusing. A few pointers:

    • Civil claims are (with a very few exceptions, such as libel cases) heard by a judge, not a jury, and the judge sets damages.
    • Damages in English law are mainly assessed as restitution for the claimant, not punishment of the defendant. This means that by US standards, English courts award very low damages in tort claims. That being said, very extreme misconduct can result in aggravated damages.
    • The relatively low damages in English courts make it usually impractical to pay lawyers out of damages. Instead, costs form a separate award.
    • The default position in English civil court cases is 'loser pays the winner's costs'.
    • This is tempered by strict rules on what costs can be claimed, and normally costs are assessed by the judge at the end of the case (or in a big claim, in a separate hearing) and usually scaled back from what is sought.
    • Very bad conduct in the running of the case itself (e.g. persisting with a hopeless defence, or rejection of reasonable offers to settle) can result in so-called 'indemnity costs' - the loser has to pay the winners costs in full, without any judicial moderation.

    The full judgment sets out an appalling history of intimidation and harassment. During the case itself, the Baylisses (who were mainly representing themselves) were found to have adduced very biased and contrived evidence in an effort to bolster their claim. As a result, the judge ordered indemnity costs and also exemplary damages.

    There was a long and complex history to this case, including an appeal on an interim decision. That in part explains the very high costs, which the judge clearly felt Mrs Saxton had accrued as a result of having to deal with the Baylisses' approach to defending the claim against them.

    Finally, it seems that Mrs Saxton instructed her lawyers on a conditional fee basis. This is a form of 'no win, no fee' - if you lose, you don't pay your lawyers, but if you win their fee is given an uplift (typically 15-100% depending on the prospects for success). Until very recently, a successful party could recover the whole fee, including uplift, from the loser. That also explains the high costs award.

    As a lawyer I often warn clients that the risk in litigation is not so much in damages (be it not getting them, or having them awarded against you) but in costs. I can't help but feel that had Mr and Mrs Bayliss instructed lawyers they would have received very firm advice to come to an agreed settlement early on, precisely because of the risk of a huge costs penalty.

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