The High Court has refused a firm’s attempt to join as lead solicitors on a group litigation order after existing solicitors ‘implacably opposed’ the application.
Watford firm Collins Solicitors had attempted to join the group representing former steel workers in industrial injury cases. It purported to have 300 claimants.
But the application was ‘strongly resisted’ by lead solicitors from national firms Irwin Mitchell and Hugh James, with disagreement between the practices deteriorating from a difference of opinion to ‘personal recrimination’, according to court documents.
At a case management conference in Hutson & Ors v Tata Steel UK Ltd, Mr Justice Turner expressed his concern that increasing the number of lead solicitors could add to the costs and demands on the court’s resources.
He also made clear that internal clashes between lead solicitors on case management and control, flavoured by what he called ‘personal animosity’, would not contribute to the firm and consistent organisation needed to run the claims.
‘The granting of this application would be more likely to produce a long-running forensic Punch and Judy show than a focused and coherent pathway to a just resolution of the claims to be achieved at proportionate cost,’ he added.
Turner acknowledged that Collins had around 300 claimants eligible to join the group, albeit using what the judge called ‘less onerous selection criteria’. But he insisted that ‘more is not always better’ when it comes to selecting lead solicitors, and stressed this was not an ‘exercise in proportional representation’.
‘Having a considerable number of individual eligible claimants may well give rise to an enhanced claim to the role of lead solicitor but it is a factor which falls far short of amounting to an entitlement,’ said Turner. ‘It would be unfair if prospective claimants with sufficiently high prospects of success were to be precluded from participation, but it would be no fairer to meritorious claimants to have their cases prejudiced by the inclusion of a disproportionate number of poor claims.’
The judge opted to retain the status quo and said concerns raised by Collins could be addressed under the court’s case management powers.