The High Court has given the green light to a solicitor to pursue claims against the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and South Wales Police (SWP) for malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office.
Phillip Rudall argues that the pair were engaged in an improper operation designed to prevent him practising as a solicitor.
He has twice been cleared of alleged criminal conduct: first, in 2005, of charges of conspiracy to defraud and perverting the course of justice after a Crown Court trial, and then, in 2013, of charges of involvement in money laundering. These charges were dismissed by the court before trial for lack of evidence.
His claim for damages includes loss of earnings as a solicitor – his conveyancing practice in Swansea having diminished as a result of the first prosecution and ceasing altogether in July 2004 – and subsequently as a legal consultant.
He also seeks damages for personal injury, including psychological and psychiatric damage. He spent around 12 years under investigation by the SWP and subject to prosecution by the CPS.
The hearing before Mr Justice Phillips was to consider the defendants’ application to strike out the claims over limitation or for summary judgment.
Phillips J found that his claims arising from the first prosecution were statute barred, but that his claim for malicious prosecution in relation to the second case should proceed to trial. He also gave Mr Rudall permission to amend his claim to add a claim of conspiracy to injure by unlawful means.
Further, he allowed Mr Rudall to proceed with claims for misfeasance in public office and a human rights claim under article 6 (the right to a fair trial).
Phillips J recounted how suspicion fell on Mr Rudall after he acted for two “professional criminals” who operated fraudulent pyramid selling schemes, and with whom he was thought to have a close personal relationship.
Indeed, after one of them died, it was said that he started an intimate relationship with his widow, Natalie Richards, and it was allegations about his conduct in acting for her in an ultimately abandoned breach of contract claim against an architect that led to the first trial. She was also acquitted at that trial.
Phillips J said: “It seems that, having failed to obtain a conviction… the SWP and the CPS returned to consider money-laundering allegations against Mr Rudall and Mrs Richards in 2006, some four years after the search warrant [of his office] was executed.” These were for alleged dealings between 1999 and 2002.
However, after a crucial piece of evidence was held to be inadmissible, a judge ruled that there was no case for Mr Rudall and Mrs Richards to answer and the charges against them were dismissed.
Phillips J said the defendants had “powerful” arguments against the claim of malicious prosecution that “will present Mr Rudall with significant obstacles in succeeding in his claim at trial”. These included the high hurdle that such a claim has to jump and the reviews of the case that were carried out as it progressed.
“However, in my judgment that claim cannot be dismissed at this stage as having no real prospect of success,” the judge said.
This was because Mr Rudall had “an arguable case that the prosecution lacked reasonable and probable cause from the outset”.
Phillips J said: “On the face of the documents, the CPS was acutely aware that the evidence it had might not be sufficient to prosecute Mr Rudall, but proceeded to do so anyway. It took no steps to obtain fresh evidence, but instead proceeded towards a six-month trial.”
He continued: “The mere fact that the prosecution proceeded for several years without the CPS taking steps to obtain the vital and central evidence it was clearly advised to seek may, in itself, be sufficient to give rise to an arguable inference of bad faith and/or malice.
“Further support for such an inference may be drawn from the fact that the CPS did not consider pursuing Mr Rudall for money-laundering offences until 2006, after he had been acquitted [in the first case].
“Mr Rudall’s contention is that the CPS’s primary and improper motive was to continue to prevent him practising as a solicitor by keeping him under investigation and subject to prosecution, a contention which may draw some support from the rather unfortunate expressions of opinion in counsel’s advices…
“Overall, the determination of the CPS, certain counsel and certain officers of the SWP (including those who returned to work on the case after retirement) to pursue Mr Rudall over so many years gives rise to legitimate questions of their motivation, questions which can only be resolved at trial.”
Phillips J continued that the SWP remained closely involved in the prosecution and was responsible for the handling of the evidence that was ruled inadmissible, with the lack of an audit trail one of the issues.
“It is at least arguable that the SWP played a sufficient role in the commission of any tort committed by the CPS to be liable as joint tortfeasor,” the judge said.