The High Court has set aside an order made against a litigant after it emerged that his solicitor had duped him by conducting “fictitious” litigation that included faked judgments and telephone conferences involving the impersonation of his senior partner and of leading counsel.
Among those he claimed to have instructed, but didn’t, was the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord MacDonald QC.
Mr Justice Hamblen described the facts giving rise to the case – which involves an alleged failure to meet a multi-million pound judgment debt – as “extraordinary” and “breathtaking”.
He said that as with AP Herbert’s Uncommon Law – an anthology of satirical law reports published in 1935 – the case involved “the false document literary technique – the creation of a sense of authenticity through the invention of documents which appear to be factual”.
The judge recounted: “The ‘author’ in this case was Mr Andrew Benson, then a partner in Byrne & Partners LLP who was purporting to act for the second defendant, Rajesh Mehta (RM).
“From the end of October 2010 until December 2013 he conducted fictitious litigation for RM. That litigation involved fictitious hearings before the Commercial Court and the Court of Appeal; purported judgments of those courts; purported sealed court orders; a purported hearing transcript; purported skeleton arguments; purported correspondence with court officials and the claimant’s solicitors, Norton Rose; the fictitious instruction and engagement of various counsel, and telephone conferences involving the impersonation of his senior partner and of leading counsel.
“None of this reflected reality. Throughout that period there was in fact no contact with Norton Rose or the court.”
The deception was finally discovered when questions were asked about a transcript of a purported hearing before Popplewell J and his real clerk was contacted directly.
Hamblen J said Mr Benson has been dismissed from Byrne & Partners and is under investigation by the Metropolitan Police and the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Neither Mr Benson nor the firm were party to the case before the court.
The judge said: “The deception practised by Mr Benson over a period of more than three years… is rightly described as breathtaking. Until the police and the SRA have concluded their investigations much remains unclear, including his motives…
“The only payment made on behalf of RM during this period is the payment of £25,000 made to Byrne & Partners pursuant to the supposed consent order dated 4 July 2011. This has now been returned. None of the other payments called for in purported court orders were made. There is some evidence that other payments may have been made to Byrne & Partners but, if so, not by or on behalf of RM.
“There is also some evidence of a bitter family feud and of parties who might have an interest in ensuring that RM failed in all aspects of the English court litigation. However, at present this is all speculation. Matters will no doubt become clearer as a result of the Metropolitan Police and SRA investigations.”
The real litigation saw an order in October 2010 by which Mr Justice David Steel activated a suspended committal order he had made in October 2009 and had a bench warrant issued for RM’s arrest.
Hamblen J ruled that Mr Benson’s “alleged misconduct” had impacted on the 2010 order, meaning it should be set aside, but not on any other orders.