A property owner who tried to sue his divorce solicitors over the relief he had to pay his ex-wife has been told his case may still have a prospect of success.
Riaz Ahmad identified 16 grounds in which he alleged Clive Graham Wood and/or his firm had acted negligently or in breach of their agreement, including their conduct of proceedings and advice to him. This caused District Judge Khan to award a lump sum to Ahmad’s ex-wife of £465,000 – three times the amount he had offered to pay.
His Honour Judge Eyre QC, sitting as a judge of the High Court in Ahmad v Wood & Anor, ordered the claim be changed and stressed it would still be difficult to win, but said it still had prospects of success.
Ahmad sought damages of £1.17m, based on the extra he ended up paying and the various amounts which he sought to recover as consequential losses caused by his solicitor’s failings.
But Wood and his Stockport firm applied for striking out of the claim based on it being an abuse of process to attack the decision of the judge and not disclosing reasonable grounds for bringing the claim. The defendants also argued Ahmad had no real prospect of success.
Ahmad alleged his solicitor had negligently stated the matter was straightforward, that a lump sum was unlikely to be awarded, a witness statement was not needed, and there was no need to engage counsel. He also claimed failures of preparation, poor advocacy and a faulty witness statement.
Ahmad, whose first language is not English, said he was told he would not be cross-examined in English, and this left a poor impression on the district judge.
Wood and his firm said the claim was a ‘collateral attack’ on the judgment and made on a ‘legally untenable basis’ in seeking to make them liable for losses caused by the outcome, with no prospect of success. It was not accepted they were either negligent or in breach of any duty.
HHJ Eyre said the claimant had effectively claimed the district judge was in error on the material before him: this was an ‘impermissable collateral attack’ on his judgment and should be struck out as abuse of process.
On the question of whether fuller material being disclosed might have produced a different outcome, this was not an abuse of process.
But the defendants were right to say the claim sought damages which were not recoverable as a matter of law, and losses falling outside the scope of the lawyer’s duty were not recoverable.
The judge declined to strike out the claim without offering Ahmad a chance to remedy defects within it. The district judge’s ruling had been swayed by the figures provided and assets available: if further material could provide a changed picture the outcome could be different.
‘The claimant will have very real obstacles to overcome in establishing his case,’ said the judge. ‘However, it is not possible to say that his claim does not have a real prospect of success.’
Parts of the claim will be struck out and the damages claim be reformulated, and the application from the solicitor and his firm for summary judgment failed.
Daniel Metcalfe, instructed by Schofield Sweeney LLP, represented the claimant. Miss. Siân Mirchandani, instructed by Mills & Reeve LLP, appeared for the defendants.