The High Court has granted insurance company LV= permission to bring committal proceedings against solicitors from a defunct law firm after two contrasting medical reports emerged in a road traffic case they were handling.
Her Honour Judge Karen Walden-Smith, sitting as a High Court judge, described the differences between the two reports – one served on the insurer and the other included in the trial bundle – as “stark”.
She said: “In the report disclosed with the claim, [the claimant] Mr Iqbal had suffered whiplash injuries to the neck and to the wrist, with a 6-8 month recovery period; whereas the report included in the bundle sets out that Mr Iqbal had mild pain and stiffness on the day of the accident but the symptoms, due to a whiplash injury, resolved one week from the date of the accident. The diagnosis of a whiplash injury to the wrist does not even make sense.”
The case collapsed in 2013 as a result of the second report coming to light, with the trial judge giving directions for an investigation into how the two reports had come into existence.
Solicitor Kamar Abbas Khan was a manager of Huddersfield firm Taylor Knight & Wolff, which was closed down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in May
Mr Khan faced 12 allegations from LV= that he had made false statements. HHJ Walden-Smith recorded: “Mr Khan denies that he was engaged in any of the conduct alleged by Liverpool Victoria. The underlying contention made on behalf of Mr Khan is that, as a qualified solicitor, he would not take the risk of exposing himself to the risk of imprisonment and professional sanctions by acting as he did simply to secure fast-track trial costs.
“The response of Liverpool Victoria to that contention is that while, if established, behaving in a manner which is to deliberately mislead the court, is liable to the strongest of sanctions (including loss of job and professional status), there was a real benefit in costs to the solicitor in having the changes to the medical reports and they can point to changes to the explanations given by Mr Khan which supports a prima facie case of Mr Khan misleading the court.”
A crucial issue was a letter purportedly sent in February 2013 by Mr Khan to the doctor – who is himself also facing committal proceedings – asking him to reconsider his report in light of the client’s complaints about the impact of the injury. LV= contended that the letter was actually written after the event in response to the allegations against the solicitor.
The judge said there was “nothing inherently wrong with a solicitor, on his client’s instructions, raising points with the medic and seeing whether the medic remains of the same of opinion”.
However, she concluded that “the letter was constructed (as the metadata supports) in August 2013 when Mr Khan was writing his witness statement”.
She went on to rule that there was “a strong prima facie case” against Mr Khan and that the evidence of the creation of the letter provided strong corroborative evidence that Mr Iqbal was telling the truth about what happened.
“I accept that Mr Iqbal did persist in the false account of the extent of his injuries but he explains that on the basis that he had been advised by his legal advisers to take that course. In my judgment that is a potential explanation for his behaviour and it cannot be said, at this permission stage, that it undermines the strong evidence that Mr Khan was willing to mislead the court.
“In addition to finding that there is strong prima facie evidence against Mr Khan on the criminal standard, I am also satisfied that it is both in the interests of justice and in accordance with the overriding objective that permission is granted for committal proceedings to be brought against Mr Khan.”
The second person involved at the firm, Mohammed Shazed Ahmed, was accused of telling the claimant to lie on oath at his trial and give false evidence that his symptoms had persisted for six to eight months. It was not clear from the ruling whether he was a solicitor, although the Solicitors Regulation Authority has confirmed that he is.
Leaning on the notes of the claimant’s barrister on the day of the hearing – which she said showed “counsel was clearly concerned that there was a deliberate alteration of the report to put forward a stronger case for damages” – HHJ Walden-Smith found there was also a good prima facie case against Mr Ahmed.
“Mr Ahmed now seeks to say that he was not heavily involved in this litigation. In my judgment he is deliberately seeking to distance himself from the true level of his engagement.”
The judge concluded: “I am also satisfied that, even though this matter did not progress to trial, it is both in the public interest and in furtherance of the overriding objective to allow committal proceedings to be brought.
“The allegations made against these two defendants (as against the other two defendants against whom permission to bring committal proceedings have already been granted) are fundamental to the manner in which civil justice is conducted.”