High Court dismisses £2.7m law firm negligence claim

Henshaw: Ruled one allegation to be hopeless

The High Court has granted summary judgment in favour of a law firm and its senior partner and dismissed a £2.7m negligence claim.

Mr Justice Henshaw ruled that the first element of the claim by businessman Matthew Williams against Cornish firm Merricks Solicitors and Richard Merrick was time-barred and the second element had no real prospect of success.

Henshaw J said the claim by Mr Williams was based on “allegedly negligent advice” relating to compensation for an interest rate swap deal with NatWest alongside a separate alleged failure to carry out instructions, combined with giving and complying with undertakings without the client’s consent.

The judge said the process of applying for compensation, agreeing terms and receiving redress for the interest rate hedging product with NatWest had been completed by 20 October 2014, more than six years before the claim form was issued on 12 November 2020.

It followed that the claim was time-barred.

“No basis for postponing the limitation period was advanced or is apparent. Counsel for Mr Williams did not advance any contention to the contrary in the hearing before me.

“Accordingly, the base rate swap claim can have no real prospect of success, and the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on it.”

Delivering judgment in Williams v Merrick and another [2021] EWHC 2417 (QB), Henshaw J said Mr Williams ran a business from Britannia Yard and the adjoining Trelan Farm, both of which he owned.

The judge said NatWest appointed receivers over Britannia Yard in December 2014, one of them saying that Mr Williams had been in default with the bank for a considerable period.

Mr Williams said that in 2016 he was considering developing the land for commercial lettings.

He looked at finance options, one of which was the possibility of a partnership. He was introduced to a man named Rory Hardick, “whom Mr Williams was assured had the requisite contacts and ability to finance such a project”.

Mr Williams alleged that he instructed Mr Merrick to formalise the partnership proposal with Mr Hardick.

However, Henshaw J said Mr Merrick had “expressly declined” to accept the instructions, noting that at the time there was “no commercial deal, still less one of any clarity” to reduce to writing.

Following Mr Williams’ financial difficulties, the “mooted joint venture with Mr Hardick had become impossible to pursue, and all that was now on offer from Mr Hardick was purchase of the two properties”.

The allegation that Mr Williams never gave instructions to sell the properties other than when the pair had formed a partnership was “hopeless”, the judge went on.

“The correspondence I have referred to made it perfectly clear that the only transactions ultimately proposed were the sale of the properties, together with tenancies at will in favour of Mr Williams, and that no binding partnership existed.

“Nonetheless, Mr Williams proceeded to sign the transaction documents, and… gave written instructions to the defendants to give the required undertakings as to the proceeds of sale…

“There can be no doubt that Mr Williams authorised the defendants to proceed with the sales as freestanding transactions.”

It was “striking” too that Mr Williams made no complaint about what had happened for three years.

The judge added that from June 2016 the law firm was incorporated as Merricks Solicitors Limited. This meant Mr Merrick had no liability to Mr Williams for the second element of the claim.

Had he not granted summary judgment to the defendants over all elements of the claim, Henshaw J said he would therefore have struck out the claim against Mr Merrick as it related to the Hardick transaction.

    Readers Comments

  • David Crawford says:

    Another case for the professional negligence lawyers…and another claim on a PPI policy? Is there still a lawyer in UK who does not know the six year rule and if so where has he been for the last 100 years, assuming he had the appropriate and necessary instructions, and was put in funds in time, of course.

    And what has NatWest been up to? Was there not something similar going on in the Reading area: businesses in distress, so called assistance ending up in fire sales?

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