A law firm evicted from council-maintained premises for suing the local authority too frequently has overturned the decision to end its tenancy.
The Queen’s Bench division of the High Court ruled that Blackpool Borough Council had sought to ‘punish’ claimant personal injury firm North Solicitors in an ‘act of retaliation’.
The court heard the firm had advised and acted for a number of clients who had brought PI claims against the council in recent years, particularly tripping claims.
When the council refused to renew the firm’s lease in its Blackpool Enterprise Centre last year, North Solicitors brought a judicial review claim challenging the decision.
Giving judgment, His Honour Judge Stephen Davies ruled the council’s corporate asset management group (CAMG) had not sought to close down the firm, but did want to cause it ‘difficulty and inconvenience’.
Judge Davies, sitting in Manchester, said: ‘[CAMG] was determined to send a message to the claimant that the defendant was not prepared to sit back and do nothing in the face of such conduct.
‘I suspect that it was also wishing to send out a similar message to the local legal sector as a whole.’
The court was shown an email sent by the council’s head of economic development which said insurance claims had reached ‘unprecedented levels’ and that the activities of PI firms ran contrary to the interests of the local authority.
Judge Davies said there was no evidence that the council conducted a ‘rational assessment’ of the tenancy decision and its only consideration was to punish the claimant firm.
He added: ‘There can be no conceivable basis for any criticism of a firm of solicitors who, acting in accordance with the law and the relevant professional rules, enable genuine claimants to obtain access to justice so as to claim compensation for injuries sustained as a result of the breach of public bodies such as the defendant.’
However, the judge rejected the argument that the council’s decision was the result of the application of a secret policy to ‘blacklist’ the firm and others like it.
The Law Society had submitted a letter to the court in support of the judicial review, adding that the case had a wider significance to the personal injury sector as a whole.
Law Society president Nick Fluck said: ‘Solicitors should not fear repercussions when securing access to justice on behalf of their clients and whilst upholding the rule of law whether that be representing personal injury victims against a council or any other class of claimant however unpopular.
‘We wanted to outline the public importance of the case in supporting an independent legal profession that should not be dissuaded from pursuing legitimate claims against public authorities.’
A Blackpool council spokesperson said the authority is ‘bitterly disappointed’ with the judgment and that no decision had been taken on whether to appeal.