Law Society takes fight against accountants to House of Lords

The Law Society is paying a visit to the House of Lords this week in an ongoing fight against an accountancy firm accused of negligence.

On Thursday (16 March) Lords Hoffmann, Rodger, Scott, Walker and Baroness Hale will hear the appeal of accountants Sephton & Co on preliminary issues in the case.

The Law Society, represented by regular advisers Wright Son & Pepper and Fountain Court Chambers’ Timothy Dutton QC, is claiming negligence and fraud against Sephtons. The firm provided annual reports between 1989 and 1995 on solicitors’ firm Payne & Co.

In 1997 Paynes’ name partner Andrew Payne was struck off the roll and in 1998 was sentenced to five years in prison for theft, forgery and procuring a valuable security by deception after it emerged that he had been misappropriating clients’ funds. In total, Payne misappropriated more than £750,000 from clients’ accounts. The Law Society brought the case against Sephtons for recovery of funds repaid from the Solicitors’ Compensation Fund after it emerged that a partner in the firm had not examined Payne’s accounts. However, a dispute soon arose over the limitation period of the claim.

In February 2004, Michael Briggs QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, dismissed the Law Society’s case because he said it had exceeded the limitation period.

But the Court of Appeal disagreed in December 2004, prompting Sephtons’ appeal to the Lords.

Barlow Lyde & Gilbert partner Stuart Hall and Hailsham Chambers’ head Michael Pooles QC are representing Sephtons.