His Honour Jan Luba KC in the chambers adjoining Court 61 at the County Court in Central London in 2024.
As Jan Luba KC steps back from an extraordinary 42 years of writing for Legal Action and LAG, his co-authors and LAG colleagues pay tribute to his contributions.
Housing law is hard law. Dozens of Acts of Parliament and sets of regulations have grafted a complex statutory framework onto land law dating back to feudal times. It is also hard law because of the way housing cases can affect people’s lives. At worst, they lead to eviction, homelessness and financial ruin. In 1980, when LAG was still in its infancy, 98.7 per cent of landlords who brought possession claims obtained possession orders. With 21st century cuts and the decimation of legal aid, and even more badly drafted legislation, it has become even harder.
It was against that background that, in 1985, I met my friend and colleague Jan Luba in a seedy pub in King’s Cross to discuss ways of sharing knowledge about housing law – not just what we, as young lawyers, were learning, but, more importantly, years before the internet and the Housing Law Practitioners Association (HLPA), what other solicitors and barristers working in Law Centres and private practice were discovering. Jan’s idea was a book that became Defending Possession Proceedings
, now in its ninth edition
. My idea was a quarterly column in Legal Action
, which became ‘Recent developments in housing law’. (‘Recent developments’ went monthly in July 1998.) We agreed to work collaboratively – a partnership that continued until I retired in 2018.
In those early days, with no email, colleagues posted or sent via the Document Exchange paper transcripts or typed case notes. Before each edition, Jan and I met in a booth in former shire horse stables that had been converted into a wine bar. (They retained many of the original fixtures and fittings.) We exchanged material over a bottle of cheap red wine. (When young, Jan worked in a family off-licence and has never seen the point of expensive wine.) A week or so later, we met again to comment on and correct each other’s drafts. We hand-delivered our copy to Legal Action’s offices just round the corner.
Jan has contributed to every ‘Recent developments’ article since 1985 – an almost unbelievable span of 38 years. Throughout that time, he displayed the same exactingly high personal standards that have been the hallmark of his career in Law Centres, with the National Housing Law Service, at the bar and on the bench; the work ethic of a Stakhanovite; precise attention to detail; uncompromising accuracy; a tight literary style; and great organisational skills. (At a time when the room of a criminal colleague in chambers was decorated with large butterflies, statues of Buddha, paper flowers and candles with hardly a law book in sight, the walls of Jan’s spartan room next door were lined with dozens of neatly labelled ring binders containing every conceivable resource that any housing lawyer could ever need.)
But, as we all know, Jan’s contribution to housing law is far wider than ‘Recent developments’. He has written or contributed to many of the key housing law books for practitioners: Defending Possession Proceedings
; Repairs: tenants’ rights
(now retitled Housing Conditions: tenants’ rights
); and Housing Allocation and Homelessness (published by LexisNexis). Through courses organised by LAG and other providers, he helped train a generation of housing practitioners. In practice and through HLPA, he contributed to the development of the law, and assisted and encouraged numerous colleagues. And then there is his contribution while sitting as a circuit judge.
This issue contains the last ‘Recent developments’ article to which Jan will contribute. He retires from the bench on 1 April 2024. ‘Recent developments’ will continue, written by Sam Madge-Wyld and Liz Davies KC, but housing law, housing practitioners and those with housing problems owe a huge debt to Jan.
Nic Madge is a writer and trainer. He has been a Law Centre solicitor, a partner at Bindmans LLP and a circuit judge.
It is nearly eight years since I first began writing with Jan. Before then, I had only ever written for Andrew Arden KC (the other titan of the housing bar) and was under the deluded impression that it was impossible for anyone else to have as exacting standards. I could not have been more wrong. After writing those chapters for the eighth edition of Defending Possession Proceedings
, we did the ninth
together (alongside Ann Bevington, John Gallagher and Sarah Steinhardt) and, since Legal Action
’s July/August 2018 issue
, ‘Housing law: recent developments’ every month.
In all that time, Jan’s unrelenting attention to detail has not wavered once (it remains impossible, for example, to slip into a case note the fact that a tenancy was granted to five joint tenants without footnoting that such a grant is an impossibility, even if this had passed the judge and counsel in the case by) and he has always maintained an unshakeable fervour that our readers should be able to access everything that they need to know about housing law (even the bits that some would mistakenly maintain they have no need to know) in as clear and succinct a way possible. April will see Jan retire from the bench. There can be few retirements that are as well-earned as his.
Sam Madge-Wyld is a barrister practising from Tanfield Chambers.
Liz Davies KC
‘Recent developments in housing law’ was the brainchild of Jan Luba and Nic Madge. Back in the days when we depended on print for our updates, the monthly ‘Recent developments’ article would be pored over, photocopied and circulated around the office or chambers. It would then be carefully filed, because if the copy were lost, that would be it. There was no Google to help you retrieve previously published materials.
These days, information is posted on the internet immediately (not least by the brilliant Nearly Legal). Counsel or solicitors unaware of a case decided the previous day would now be rebuked in court. But ‘Recent developments’ retains its unique selling point: it brings together all the cases, policy announcements, ombudsman decisions and legislation from the previous month that housing lawyers need to know. It is a one-stop shop.
Jan’s own writing style is meticulous, concise and clear. We have all sent him case notes of two or three pages (summarising judgments of 20 or 30 pages or more) and then opened ‘Recent developments’ to find the case brilliantly précised in just three short paragraphs. He is generous crediting colleagues.
Writing with Jan, as I have for over 20 years now, has taught me many things: concision; breaking the point down; avoiding repetition; and always double-, indeed triple-checking sources. But most of all, Jan’s belief that if in doubt you insert a subheading is a rule to which any aspiring legal writer should adhere.
It is an honour to be taking over Jan’s contributions to ‘Housing law: recent developments’ from next month, thankfully with Sam Madge-Wyld continuing, who will make sure I reach at least some of Jan’s high standards.
Liz Davies KC is a barrister at Garden Court Chambers.
I have had the pleasure of working with Jan, on each monthly issue of Legal Action, for the past 20 years. Of course, at the point I started he’d already been writing ‘Recent developments’, with original co-author Nic Madge, for nearly 20 years, making our collaboration just a drop in the ocean of Jan’s vast contribution to LAG. He’s written literally hundreds of housing updates for us, each one an invaluable round-up of the latest housing law news, legislation, policy and case law, a vital resource for housing lawyers and the reason many of Legal Action’s readers subscribe. And that’s not to mention his books and training …
What a phenomenal effort it has been to turn out these pieces so regularly, and that is, of course, on top of a very demanding day job. In all the years
we’ve worked together, the standard of writing has remained consistently excellent (one of the magazine team’s ‘easier edits’) and reliable – we’ve never been let down with missed copy. It’s hard to overstate what an immense undertaking that has been.
On a personal level, Jan has been a joy to work with – inspirational in his knowledge and commitment, and incredibly supportive of the magazine team and LAG. He will be missed enormously. A heartfelt thank you, Jan, for everything you’ve contributed, everything I’ve learnt from you along the way, and everything you’ve given to the housing world. All the very best for the future.
Louise Heath is editor of Legal Action.
‘The go-to place for radical lawyers’ was how Jan described LAG when we met at the Hoop and Grapes in Farringdon for my first ‘At the bar’ feature (‘Sharing knowledge, empowering people
’, November 2017 Legal Action
8). The storytelling idea was Jan’s, from a discussion the previous summer, while we chatted over a glass of wine at the Garden Court Housing party. It was one of many of Jan’s good ideas (Defending Possession Proceedings
being another) that we will miss at LAG.
Over the years, Jan has also been the keeper of things, including the whole back copy of Legal Action magazine (and even LAG doesn’t have a complete set!). I remember being blown away when Jan handed me Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre’s first annual report on our 45th anniversary, and when he later confessed that he had just thrown away 15 years’ worth of legal aid key cards (although I also did start to worry that he was a bit of a hoarder!). Along with the things he has kept, he has also held (in his head) an encyclopaedic knowledge of housing law that we have all shared monthly through the ‘Recent developments’ law and practice articles. I would worry what we would do without him were we not fortunate to have the incredible Liz Davies KC joining Sam in writing the monthly updates.
Jan has been an inspiration to hundreds of housing lawyers – and as a judge, he has also terrified quite a few. Luckily, I wasn’t one of the latter, and have only ever enjoyed being in Court 61. I have a particularly lovely memory of shadowing him for the day, where I found out that he was partial to a big mug of tea and a Kit Kat.
The evening I spent with Jan and Nic listening to their journeys to and through the law inspired me all over again. For those who only know Jan as a judge, it is worth a read: Jan in his pyjamas (under his court suit) at 3 am, preventing evictions; Jan driving down to Kent on Saturday mornings in 1984 to give advice to striking miners; Jan setting up the Housing Law Service; Jan discovering the out-of-hours duty judge in homelessness cases. In one early case, he telephoned the council officer responsible one night to tell her he had obtained an injunction, to which she replied: ‘If you’ve got a judge in the middle of the night to make an order, then I’m the Queen of Sheba’ – which resulted in a contempt application the following morning.
Jan’s first article for the LAG Bulletin (as Legal Action was then known) was on ‘Tenants’ rights to housing repairs’, in February 1982, while he was at Stockwell and Clapham Law Centre. His first ‘Recent developments in housing law’ was in September 1985 and his last is this month. LAG owes enormous gratitude to Jan for his commitment and generosity – sharing knowledge and empowering people. Jan told me, when we met in at the Hoop and Grapes all those years ago, that when he started out as a lawyer, he wanted to change the world. I asked him if he felt he had done that, to which he replied: ‘It is less important to me that we haven’t changed the world – but if we’ve helped one person, or several people, get access to justice then it was worth it.’ Jan, through this column (as well as everything else) has done so much more than that.
Thank you, Jan!
Sue James is LAG’s CEO.