Court of Appeal finds Kingsmill negligent

Ex-DJ Freeman partner and Midlands judge face compensation claim

The deputy chairman of the Competition Commission, a judge, and DJ Freeman are being sued for £1.7m after they were found guilty at appeal of professional negligence.
Denise Kingsmill, who is now second in command at the Competition Commission, was a partner at DJ Freeman when she took on a case on behalf of Victoria Griffin, who was seeking compensation for serious injuries she had suffered aged 12 in a road traffic accident.
The Court of Appeal found against Kingsmill, ruling that “an experienced and competent personal injury litigator ought not to have advised acceptance of the offer of £50,000”.
The advice given by Peter Clark, now a judge on the Midlands circuit and chairman of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, was also found to have been negligent.
At the time of the case, Judge Clark was a senior barrister at Devereux Chambers. At the appeal Clark was represented by Lord Brennan QC, best known for group claims in personal injury cases such as the Marchioness disaster.
The defendants have applied for leave to appeal to the Lords and are awaiting the decision of an appeal committee.
As a result of solicitor and counsel advice, Griffin received only a nominal out-of-court settlement offer of £50,000. The appeal court ruled that her case should have gone to trial, at which she would have won her case and received at least £1m in damages.
Clark told Griffin that there was “no real prospect of establishing any liability”. He had also wrongly taken the word of the BMW driver involved in the 1988 crash, who claimed that Griffin had run in front of his car. Clark rejected the plaintiff's grandfather's statement that said the BMW had struck Griffin when she stood at the edge of the road.
The judges also concluded that Kingsmill's rejection of the grandfather's evidence was “unjustified”. “Counsel and solicitors should have advised that the prospects were more than negligible,” they said.
The judges also cast concern over Mr Justice Buckley's decision at first instance, that the defendants had “all acted honestly and carefully”.
The appeal court concluded that Judge Buckley “did not have all the materials before him” when he made his decision. Materials referred to in the appellant's application were the relevant police report, police photographs and a statement from the driver who hit Griffin.
The judges added: “Had the Master had all the relevant documents before him, he would have questioned the amount that had been settled.”
Buckley was not found guilty of negligence.