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Arthur JS Hall v Simons [2000] 3 WLR 543;


[2002] 1 AC 615; [2000] 3 All ER 673; [2000] BLR 407; [2000] ECC 487; [2000] 2 FLR 545; [2000] 2 FCR 673; [2001] PNLR 6; [2000] Fam Law 806; [2000] EG 99 (C.S.); (2000) 97(32) LSG 38

PROFESSIONAL NEGLIGENCE, ADVOCACY, IMMUNITY OF SOLICITORS FROM ACTION, LEGAL PROFESSION, PUBLIC POLICY, ABUSE OF PROCESS

Facts

In the first case, in a protracted dispute for a building, the plaintiff’s solicitors acted for the opposite side. In the second case, during matrimonial ancillary relief proceedings, the plaintiff’s solicitors failed to provide her with proper advice on the valuation and division of the proceeds of a sale and lodged a minute of order which recorded an inaccurate valuation. In the third case, during matrimonial ancillary relief proceedings, the plaintiff’s solicitors advised her on the appropriate level of periodical payments and on the possibility of contributions from the husband’s cohabitee, but on the day of the trial, a different counsel persuaded the plaintiff to settle at a lower level of relief on the incorrect assumption that the husband’s relationship with the cohabitee had ended. All plaintiffs lodged negligence claims against their solicitors. In all cases, the judges at first instance concluded that the solicitors enjoyed immunity from suit and struck out the claims against them as an abuse of process of the court. The Court of Appeal reversed this decision. The defendants appealed to the House of Lords.

Issue

Are the solicitors liable in negligence if they mislead their clients and they suffer loss as a result of this?

Held

The appeals were dismissed.

(1) Reversing Rondel v Worsley [1969] 1 AC 191, in light of the changes in the law of negligence, the functioning of the legal profession, the administration of justice and public perceptions, the advocates’ immunity from suit is no longer appropriate.

(2) The liability of advocates for misleading their clients will not diminish the standards of advocacy as courts are able to judge between errors of judgement, which are inevitable, and true negligence. Thus, the floodgates for negligence claims against solicitors will not be open.

(3) Negligence claims against solicitors are not an abuse of process of the court as under r. 24.2, Part 24 Civil Procedure Rules 1998, the court has powers to give a summary judgement if a claim is unlikely to succeed.


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