Serious Fraud

Victory in Court: Robert Lawrie successfully obtains Summary Judgment for solicitor client in the High Court

Robert Lawrie, working with Faisal Osman of 33 Chancery Lane, has successfully obtained summary judgment defeating a claim against their client, a respected solicitor. Although the court dismissed the claim in its entirety, we will not be releasing our client’s name, given the sensitive nature of the case.

Our client had been employed by a firm that, following an intervention by the SRA, turned out to have been run by a dishonest solicitor who is now serving a long prison sentence for fraud.

Former clients of the firm pursued a claim against our client, contending that she had been complicit in her employer’s fraud, alleging breach of contract and negligence, and they sought to amend their claim to add allegations against our client of dishonesty and conspiracy. In addition to the potentially career-ending nature of these allegations, the claimants sought damages against our client of over £3m.

We pursued a strategy of applying for summary judgment. These are not easy applications to win. Courts are often understandably reluctant to dismiss claims without hearing the evidence at trial, particularly given the court’s natural sympathy for victims of fraud perpetrated by a dishonest solicitor.

In applying for summary judgment on the basis of a defective claim, our client faced the risk that the claimants would simply amend their case, and her application would be refused. To give our client the best possible prospects in her application, we asked the court to consider all the claimants’ intended amendments simultaneously with our client’s application for summary judgment.

Deputy Master Hansen gave judgment on 7 March 2024, dismissing the claims in their entirety. The Master found that it would be entirely wrong to find our client guilty by association with her former employer, that she had not breached any duty of care to the claimants, that she had no involvement in any fraud committed by her former employer and that any allegations against our client of dishonesty and conspiracy to injure were untenable. The Master concluded that there was no real prospect of the claimants succeeding at trial, and granted summary judgment in favour of our client, ordering the claimants to pay our client’s costs.

The Judge agreed that having suffered a loss from a dishonest wrongdoer without assets, the claimants were “casting around for another defendant they thought might be able to reimburse their losses”. The Judge further accepted our submission: “The Court will expect career-threatening allegations of dishonesty against a practising solicitor to be made with extreme care and never without a cogent and well-founded evidentiary basis.”

The case is a reminder of the need for any claimant alleging fraud to ensure that it identifies the correct defendants, makes the correct claims against them, and has a legal team that can set out the claims accurately and coherently.

The case also reinforces the need to identify the inherent risks in any application for summary judgment and to implement a case-specific strategy to address and minimise them.

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