Two-partner firm succeeds in striking out £8m professional negligence claim


RCJ

Master Bowles: claimants had “no real intention” of pursuing claim

A two-partner central London law firm has succeeded in striking out a professional negligence claim for over £8m.

The High Court ruled that the claimants, having started the litigation in 2008 following a property dispute, had allowed it to sink into “indefinite abeyance” and had no “serious and settled intent” to pursue it.

Master Bowles said the claimant property companies had acted in “knowing disregard of their obligations to the court and to the opposing party” and should not be allowed to carry on.

The master said the court would not be fulfilling its duty to the overriding objective and to “exercise its powers in such manner as to enforce compliance with the rules” if it imposed “any lesser sanction” than a strike-out.

The High Court heard in Solland International and others v Clifford Harris & Co [2015] EWHC 2018 (Ch) that the claimants had entered into contracts with a number of companies “all ultimately under the control of” the brother of the Emir of Qatar.

Master Bowles said the contracts were for the refurbishment of properties in London and Qatar, and in 2002 Solland International, Solland Interiors and two members of the Solland family referred a claim for £8.2m in allegedly unpaid costs and fees to an arbitrator.

Clifford Harris was instructed to act for the claimants. Master Bowles said that, following a High Court trial, the Solland claimants settled their claims for less than £500,000 – a sum less than their own legal costs.

Solland International and the other claimants argued that, “had the litigation been properly conducted”, they would have won the case. In response to their “root and branch” attack, Master Rowles said Clifford Harris produced a “root and branch” defence.

The law firm argued, among other things, that the claimants’ “lengthy delay” in filing its allocation questionnaire, which was “precipitated only by the issue and service of the strike-out application”, showed they had “no real intention” pursuing the claim to trial.

Agreeing with this argument, Master Bowles said it was “inconceivable and unrealistic” to think that Bircham Dyson Bell, the claimants’ experienced former solicitors, did not inform their clients of the need for and importance of the questionnaire.

The master said the claimants’ “course of inaction” was perpetrated “in a complete and knowing disregard of the rules and of their obligation to pursue their claim diligently”.

Striking out the claim under CPR 3.4(2)(c), Master Bowles added that he accepted that a strike-out was a “draconian” sanction, but he was satisfied that any other order would be “contrary to the administration of justice”.

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