Negligence claim overturned due to 'over-exacting standard'

Pritchard Joyce & Hinds (a firm) v Batcup and another (Court of Appeal - 5 May 2009)

The appellant barristers (junior and leading counsel) appealed against a decision that they had been negligent in failing to advise of the time limit applicable to a potential claim.

Here the appellant barristers, instructed by the respondent firm of solicitors, Pritchard Joyce & Hinds, on behalf of clients, Mr and Mrs Fox, had been professionally negligent in that they had failed to advise Mr and Mrs Fox to a potential claim against their former solicitors, Messers Wellers. PJH had settled a claim for negligence brought against them by Mr and Mrs Fox.

At first instance the trial judge found that the appellant barristers had also been negligent and were responsible for the same loss under the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978.

The Court of Appeal, in allowing the appeal said that the question was whether counsels' understanding of the clients' complaints constituted 'blatant errors' amounting to negligence. The court felt that an 'over-exacting standard' had been set by the trial judge in relation to the professional duty owed by counsel. The Court of Appeal expressed the view that legal advisors were not expected to 'divine every claim' that a claimant may have.

Comment

This case shows the court's pragmatic approach towards professional negligence claims made against both solicitors and barristers, and should encourage insurers to take a robust stance on liability in the appropriate circumstances. - Sandeep Dyal, BLM Birmingham.

- These law reports are contributed by national law firm Berrymans Lace Mawer (www.blm-law.com)

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