Court rejects £71m appeal over firm’s ‘conspiracy’ claim

Topics: Litigation,Litigation Funding,Industrial injury

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The Court of Appeal has refused to hear a £71m claim against trade union firm Thompsons Solicitors brought by a collapsed rival.

Liquidated firm Greene, Wood and McLean LLP had failed in 2006 with proceedings against Thompsons after an attempted group litigation order was rejected by the High Court. 

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The decision not to allow the order to proceed was unsuccessfully challenged in the High Court before GWL took the case on to the Court of Appeal. But the court rejected its claims that a judge had conspired with defendants to undermine the case and refused permission for the appeal to continue.

GWM had previously sought to represent miners who wanted to bring proceedings against their former solicitors, claims-handlers and trade unions for making allegedly wrongful deductions from their compensation.

Individually the sums were believed to be small and not worth the expense of litigation, but GWM wanted to obtain the group order in order for a large number of miners to become parties.

Sir Michael Turner, judicial administrator of the British Coal Respiratory Disease Litigation scheme which oversaw compensation claims, dismissed GWM’s claims in ‘robust terms’ in 2006 and awarded costs against the claimants.

His judgment identified a ‘gross imbalance’ between costs incurred and the sums likely to be recovered, and stated that no group litigation issue had been sufficiently or precisely identified.

In a challenge to that ruling, David Jackson, assignee of GWM, argued in the High Court that the group litigation order and subsequent avoidance of after-the-event insurance cover ‘effectively destroyed’ the firm’s business.

Jackson sought £71m as damages for conspiracy and other torts against Thompsons. The claimant alleged that Sir Michael had been, or appeared to have been, biased against GWM and its clients and for that reason had dismissed the application for a group litigation order.

He also alleged that Thompsons and other firms named as defendants in the original claim had ‘conspired among themselves and with others to procure the appointment of a judge who was, or appeared to be, biased in their favour’.

After a 25-day trial, the judge dismissed the claim, rejecting any case over bias or conspiracy.

GWM sought to appeal in January, but the application was yesterday dismissed in the appeal court by Lord Justice Moore-Bick (pictured) in Jackson v Thompsons Solicitors (a firm) & Ors.

He ruled that GWM had to prove a causative link between any established bias and the loss which the firm sought to recover. Moore-Bick said the claimant had been unable to point to anything said or done by Sir Michael during the three days of the 2006 hearing, or to anything said in his judgment, which showed evidence of bias.

Sir Michael, he went on, had ‘powerful reasons’ for refusing the group litigation order and it did not follow that any other judge would have come to a different conclusion.

Stephen Cavalier, chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors said: ‘The High Court dismissed every claim brought against the firm by Mr Jackson. We are pleased that the Court of Appeal has now dismissed his application for permission to appeal from that judgment and brought this case to an end.

‘This was at its heart a case without merit brought in the hope that Thompsons might settle. The judgment vindicates our decision to fight the claim in its entirety at every stage and we welcome that the Court of Appeal has concluded that “an appeal in this case would have no real prospect of success”.’

Readers' comments (9)

  • Crikey - I hadn't realised this was still rumbling on nearly 10 years after the original GLO hearing in July 2005 , although this looks like the end of the road. The costs of the 25 day trial must have been astronomical.

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  • Sounds like a claim always doomed to fail.

    To make out the conspiracy case they surely had to prove the Judge was biased - it was never going to happen.

    I wonder which ATE Insurer gave cover.

    Did Counsel act on a CFA for such a daft case...?

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  • I've not yet taken on a case where someone has walked into my office and told me that the judge was 'crooked' or 'conspired' with the other side - and there certainly are people who say that.

    I'm afraid that the action sounds as though it was entirely unmeritorious on the facts as presented... but I wonder if there's more to it than that presented above? I'd be interested to see the judgment.

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  • How can a judge be procured?

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  • Anon @ 4.20 : ask around Shepherd Market and you'll find out.

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  • ..... and in that place, what does the judge charge? Is it an hourly rate with a mark up? Is it extra if he/she is robed? Do you also have to wait months to get in front of him or her? And do you get a judge on the bench?

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  • The best way to get the Judge to be partial in your favour is to send him/her a case of the very best Bordeaux, with a compliment slip from the other side's lawyers.

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  • Anon 05:45

    I applaud your initiative but would suggest an ostentatious but frankly disappointing case instead.

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  • Note the highly interesting penultimate para from the judgment!

    "Conspiracy
    Although proof of conspiracy is logically the first step in the applicant's case, we have deferred dealing with it until now because it calls for detailed consideration only if GWM can persuade the court that they have a real prospect of success on other essential aspects of its case. Since we do not think they can, we propose to say no more than this: that, if this were the only issue to which the appeal gave rise, we would have been willing to grant permission to appeal, at least in relation to the allegation that Thompsons acted in conjunction with others to ensure, so far as it lay within their power to do so, that the application was heard by Sir Michael Turner. That is not by any means to say that we think an appeal on that ground would succeed; simply that the prospects of success on that narrow issue are sufficient to justify giving permission. We have greater doubts in respect of an appeal in relation to procuring a breach of contract on the part of Templeton. In paragraphs 224 to 237 the judge set out the evidence relating to that issue (which was almost entirely oral) and gave reasons for preferring the evidence of one witness to that of another. He clearly formed a very unfavourable impression of Mr. Brunswick, Templeton's chairman and managing director, and a favourable view of Mr. Shears, the partner of Thompsons who had primary responsibility for the litigation. We think the court would be very reluctant to overturn his findings of fact on that question, but in the event nothing turns on that."

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