Lawyer cleared of contempt over bogus whiplash claim

Cawson: Alternative explanations

The senior partner of a law firm who acted on a bogus whiplash claim arising from an accident in which he was also injured has been cleared of contempt of court.

His Honour Judge Cawson KC, sitting as a High Court judge, held there were “alternative explanations that are at least reasonably credible” about why Darrell Robinson verified false statements made by the claimant with a statement of truth.

This meant the judge could not be sure to the criminal standard of proof that the lawyer knew what he was doing.

Mr Robinson, an experienced chartered legal executive, was senior partner of two-partner Manchester solicitors’ firm The Rose Partnership, where he handled low-value personal injury claims. It went into voluntary liquidation last month.

In November 2019, he had a weekend away with a group of friends in the Lake District, during which a taxi they were in had a collision.

They brought whiplash claims, with Mr Robinson acting on five claims, while his partner at the firm handled his claim.

One of the claimants was the son of one of the friends, James Gibson, who joined the group for parts of the weekend and said he was in the taxi. His claim settled and he subsequently had to repay the £4,000 in damages and costs after dashcam evidence showed he was actually not.

The alleged contempts were that Mr Robinson fraudulently made false statements in support of Mr Gibson’s claim in signing the stage 2 settlement pack form and a part 18 statement.

HHJ Cawson recounted: “Mr Robinson’s case, in short, is that at all relevant times he believed that James Gibson had been in the taxi at the time of the accident, and therefore that in making the relevant statements he did so in the honest belief that they were true.”

This was based on his recollection of events “after a boozy night out reconstructed with the assistance of photographs” that showed Mr Gibson with the group at a pub shortly after the accident and Mr Gibson claiming he had been in the taxi.

The judge noted authority to the effect that “courts ought generally to proceed on the basis of there being an inherent improbability of a professional person, such as Mr Robinson, acting dishonestly…

“This means that more convincing evidence may, dependent upon the context, be required before a court can safely be sure that a professional has acted dishonestly.”

This was “at least a material consideration” here given that Mr Robinson had “little, if anything, to gain from lending his name to a false low-value claim, and a great deal to lose by doing so, including potentially losing his career and his liberty”.

Though HHJ Cawson found some of Mr Robinson’s answers under cross-examination vague and “capable at least of being construed as being evasive”, these “imperfections” were more readily explicable on the basis of a genuine inability to clearly recall events after the passage of time, “and/or a subconscious reconstruction of events in Mr Robinson’s mind as he has grappled with what is, on any view, the difficult position that he finds himself in.

“Certainly, Mr Robinson did not come across to me as an obviously evasive or dishonest witness attempting to mislead the court.”

If Mr Gibson was prepared to deceive the court, the medical expert and the defendant’s insurers in the way that he did, “then he was at least capable of deceiving Mr Robinson”.

HHJ Cawson concluded that, while there was “much force in the case, based largely on inference”, ultimately he was not satisfied that the defendant’s arguments “lead to such an inevitable or irresistible inference that Mr Robinson knew that the relevant statements were not true that I can be sure that such was the case so as to satisfy the criminal standard of proof”.

Dismissing the application for committal, he continued: “I have come to the firm view that the evidence admits of alternative explanations that are at least reasonably credible such that I am unable to find that the inference that Mr Robinson knew that the relevant statements were not true is one that no reasonable person would fail to draw.”

In 2022, Mr Robinson discontinued his own whiplash claim, repaying interim payments of £4,016. Judgment was entered on the counterclaim for £8,041 and Mr Robinson agreed to pay the defendant’s costs on the indemnity basis, agreed at £20,184. He waived the right to the protection of qualified one-way costs shifting.

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