Collapsed Midlands firm Blakemores will face trial over a land registration dispute after the Court of Appeal reopened a case against it.
Three elderly villagers had appealed after their negligence claim against the firm – now in administration- was struck down for being issued too late.
In December 2012, three months before it collapsed, Blakemores had charged the trio more than £635,000 for work done in changing land titles in their home village in Lancashire.
Two of the former clients made a defence and counterclaim, drafted by former Blakemores solicitor Michael Baxendale (now working for a different firm) in which they pleaded that they had been negligently advised by another former Blakemores solicitor.
The case was eventually brought before His Honour Judge Simon Brown QC, who said their claim for damages for negligence was statute-barred as they had the relevant knowledge and information about the case in 2009. They contended they had not acquired any such knowledge at that time, and only knew they could bring an action for damages in December 2010 when they received a deputy adjudicator’s decision.
In the appeal court, Lord Justice Vos said that in the original ruling Brown had decided the ‘starting date’ for a damages claim was the earliest date on which the claimants first had relevant knowledge.
But Vos said while the claimants knew the bare facts, they were ignorant of their real significance. ‘The appellants are not experts in land registration or manorial law,’ he said. ‘They cannot be taken to have known the obscure consequences of a failure to file an objection in time without being told what they were.
‘The judge was wrong to determine as a matter of law that the facts pleaded in the defence and counterclaim meant that that the starting date for limitation purposes had to be April 2009. In my judgment, a trial of the facts will be needed before that question can be properly decided.’
On the issue of a third former client of Blakemores, Vos set aside a default judgment previously made against him.
The court had earlier ruled that a delay of more than a year from knowing about the default judgment to making an application to set it aside was too much.
But Vos said the claimant was suffering from personal difficulties and the news he was facing a potential charging order over his home for more than £600,000 ‘must have been quite overwhelming’.
Blakemores, owner of consumer brand Lawyers2you, was intervened in by the regulator and shut down in March 2013, with the loss of over 200 jobs.