Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co

UK 200 2013 position: 25

Court of Appeal confirms supremacy of the retainer

In July 2013, Wragge & Co reported on the case of Mehjoo v Harben Barker (a firm) & Anor, where the judge at first instance found that a variation to their general retainer meant Harben Barker was under a duty to recognise Mr Mehjoo’s non-domicile status and the significant tax advantages that might bring. Furthermore, it was under a duty to refer Mr Mehjoo to a non-domicile specialist for tax advice relating to his status, that advice being outside its area of expertise.

Harben Barker subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal and judgment in that appeal was handed down on 25 March 2014, [2014] EWCA Civ 358. In his leading judgment, Lord Justice Patten allowed the appeal and held that Harben Barker was not in breach of its duty to Mr Mehjoo after all. The terms of its general retainer had not been varied such that it was under a duty to advise on complex tax planning schemes, absent a request to do so.

Mr Mehjoo was born in Tehran but had lived in the UK since he was a child and became a British citizen in 1996. He was a successful businessman whose high-street fashion business was sold for a substantial sum in 2005. His share of the business was valued at £8.5m and this claim arose as a result of the capital gains tax liability Mr Mehjoo was faced with following the sale of his shares…

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