Ian Hamilton QC, whose name will forever be associated with the deed of derring-do on Christmas day 1950 when he and three fellow students repatriated the Stone of Destiny from Westminster – albeit initially in two halves. They managed to break it while they and it went into hiding together.
Anyway, as we have reported recently, Mr Hamilton was in court yesterday (18th February) – specifically in the Small Claims Court in Oban in Argyll. He was beginning his case against the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) for compensation for a share issue the bank persuaded him and others to buy into in June 2008. Mr Hamilton, who is representing himself, argues that the bank was insolvent and concealed its financial situation at the time of this share issue.
The amount at stake is small and is within the limits that the Small Claims Court is empowered to deal with. The problem for the bank is that if Mr Hamilton wins, other larger shareholders will be encouraged to pursue legal action for compensation on their own account.
The RBS has therefore been arguing that the case should be heard by a higher court – perhaps the Oban Sheriff Court. This move is being resisted by Mr Hamiton because if he lost he would required to pay the RBS legal costs which in the Small Claims Court are limited to £150. In the Sheriff Court the costs applied could bankrupt him.
At the age of 83, Ian Hamilton is naturally unprepared to risk this financial wipeout and has said that if the decision of the Oban Small Claims Court is to pass the case to the Sheriff Court, he will have no choice but to withdrawn his case.
At heart, Mr Hamilton’s action is about making the point that the large and the powerful must be accountable without draconian cost to the ordinary citizen who may well have right on her or his side. He said in court that people were said to live in a democracy but that: ‘If this is so, there must exist a court in which the members of that democracy can defend their little pieces of property against the big beasts which prowl about in our society’.
At the start of the case in Oban yesterday, Mr Hamilton withdrew an allegation of fraud against the RBS which had previously been contained in the writ.
The RBS’s Solicitor advocate, Joyce Cullen, said that, with the bank denying all the claims made by Mr Hamilton, the action would include ‘detailed pleadings’ and there was no provision for this in the small claims court. She argued that the complexity of the case therefore indicated that it be heard in a higher court.
Both Mr Hamilton and the RBS will have to wait for Sheriff Simon Pender’s ruling on the issue which he will give next week.