The High Court last week threw out a £71m claim against trade union practice Thompsons which sought to blame it for the collapse of a law firm which had tried to bring group litigation on behalf of thousands of miners.
It also rejected an allegation that former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott had played a part in actions which ultimately led to the solicitors, Greene Wood & McLean (GWM), going into liquidation.
The case was brought by David Jackson, an accountant who took an assignment of claims from GWM’s liquidator.
GWM had sought to sue five law firms (not Thompsons), the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and its claims handler Vendside over deductions from compensation paid to thousands of miners under the government schemes for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and vibration white finger.
In 2006, Sir Michael Turner in the High Court dismissed GWM’s application for a group litigation order (GLO), and awarded indemnity costs against the miners such was his criticism of the way the matter had been pursued. Following this decision, after-the-event insurer Templeton purported to avoid the policy it had provided GWM’s clients, which led to legal action by clients against the firm.
Thompsons was involved more generally in the miners’ compensation schemes and also had its own commercial relationship with Templeton.
Since Mr Jackson’s case began in 2011, it had narrowed primarily to accusations that Thompsons unlawfully interfered with the operation of the ATE cover, and that it took steps to ensure Sir Michael would hear the GLO application knowing or believing that he was biased against it. Mr Jackson said Lord Prescott had intervened also to put pressure on Templeton.
He claimed that the combination of the GLO decision and the subsequent avoidance of the ATE cover effectively destroyed GWM’s business.
However, following a 25-day hearing, Mr Justice Simon dismissed the claim. He “rejected the factual premise” of the allegation over the ATE insurance, saying that nothing Templeton did was due to “any act” of Thompsons. Further, the claimant failed to prove that Lord Prescott made a call to Templeton’s managing director – the peer’s evidence was that it did not happen – “and has failed to make good the allegation of conspiracy or harassment against him”.
On Sir Michael Turner, the judge said that “having considered the transcripts of the hearing I have found no support for the claim of actual bias in the place where one would most expect to find it”.
In any case, he found the real cause of GWM’s collapse to be Templeton’s breach of contract, rather than Sir Michael’s judgment.
Even had the claim succeeded, Simon J assessed the damages at just £3.25m.
Thompsons chief executive Stephen Cavalier said: “The judge has rejected this unjustified claim in its entirety. We have always said that the claim was unfounded and would be vigorously defended and we welcome that the judgment vindicates that approach. All claims against us have been dismissed.”
Simon J was, however, critical of Thompsons over its efforts to seek information on one of the partners at GWM. “While I accept that research on the experience of professional opponents is legitimate, trying to ‘dig up dirt’ on them, with the intention of leaking it to the press is not,” he said. “To the extent that this conduct was encouraged or condoned within Thompsons it does not reflect credit on the firm.”
In 2010, the High Court ordered Templeton to pay up, but by this time GWM was in administration.