The claimant sued her previous solicitors for professional negligence. In law she had six years to bring – 31 March 2016. The claim form relating to this claim was received by the Court on 29 March 2016 but not issued until 7 April 2016. If the claim is taken to have been brought on the earlier date then it is in time. If it was brought on the later date, it is not and the defendant has a complete defence. This was the first question that the court had to consider.
Further to the above, the case was complicated by the fact that the claimant’s solicitor had deliberately made a misstatement of the value of the claim on the claim form, which resulted in the claimant paying a lower court fee. This raised a further two questions – (1) does that constitute an abuse of process and (2) if it’s found to be an abuse of process, does it justify striking out the claim automatically?
In considering these questions the judge referred to conflicting decisions in previous court cases.
The High Court found that the claimant's solicitor’s deliberate misstatement of the value of the claim, which resulted in payment of a lower court fee, was an abuse of process. But the judge found that, despite the abuse, it did not justify automatic striking out of the claim. The judge said: “the court retains the power in any given case to strike out a claim in the event that the abuse is sufficiently egregious. Where, as here, the abuse falls very short of such a level and has no impact on the timing of the issue of the claim…” The claimant’s solicitor, Ms Jenkins, did try to justify her valuation in a witness statement. The judge commented on this by saying: “It cannot be said that her explanation was a model of clarity.”
The court also found that the claim was brought, for limitation purposes, at the time the claim form was received by the court and not when it was later issued. This was mainly on the basis that the delay in the issuing of the form was entirely unconnected to the abuse.
Why it matters?
I’d suggest that the relevance lies in being aware of the possible implications of misstating the value of any claim before proceeding to court and not leaving claims till the last minute.
You can read the judgement here.