A judge has agreed that a retiring solicitor is due the money from the capital account of a partnership – the terms of which were agreed orally over a bottle of wine.
North London conveyancing sole practitioner John Bottrill had brought forward a balance of around £150,000 when he went into partnership in 2001 with Julia Harling.
But the detail of the agreement, as noted by Lord Justice Longmore (pictured), was never put down in writing and involved discussions ‘having taken place mainly in the local public house over a bottle of red wine’.
When Bottrill decided to retire, talks again were held in the pub with nothing written down. It was agreed a new partner would pay him £25,000. But Bottrill insisted it was orally agreed that the new partnership would pay him such credit balance as was due on the current account.
Harling disputed that version and alleged that Bottrill made secret profits on his own account by continuing to work for his own benefit on cases he had brought with him.
In the original judgment, His Honour Judge Mackie QC observed that both parties had ‘no reliable recollection of what were short meetings (some of them in public houses)’.
The matter, in Bottrill v Harling, went to the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) for a two-day hearing last month.
Harling’s account said brief meetings were held in the pub ‘over a bottle of red wine’ during which Bottrill indicated he ‘simply’ wanted £25,000.
But based on what Longmore described as ‘meagre’ documentary evidence, and Bottrill’s ‘credible and correct’ oral evidence, Mackie found in favour of the retiring solicitor.
During the appeal, Bottrill said it was not specifically agreed by Harling that she would be liable for the money in the capital account.
But Longmore found insufficient evidence to reverse the original decision. Once Mackie accepted the evidence of an accountant, who stated that he had informed Harling that Bottrill had money owed to him on his capital account, his case was stronger.
After this, the judge said, it was ‘self-evident that Mr Bottrill’s capital contributions to the partnership would have to be dealt with’.