Beachcroft Wansbroughs scores victory as Appeal Court's 1999 decision overturned
Law firms and their partners can breathe a sigh of relief. The threat of negligence claims coming years after the negligent advice was given has been abated by a House of Lords decision. The ruling, made last week, restored the limitation period determining how far after-the-event claims can be made. Five Law Lords - Lord Slynn of Hadley, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough, Lord Millett and Lord Scott of Foscote - overturned the Court of Appeal decision in Cave Robinson. As a result, lawyers have avoided the possibility of long-dormant claims resurfacing. Prior to 1999, it was generally understood that a claimant had six years from the date of the mistake to make a claim. But in 1999, a Court of Appeal decision in Brocklesby Armitage & Guest effectively removed the time frame within which claims could be made. Without this limitation, solicitors and other professionals could have seen professional indemnity premiums rise to match the increased potential liabilities. Last week's House of Lords judgment stated: "The harshness of the rule is evident it is neither just nor consistent with the policy of the Limitation Act to expose a professional man to a claim for negligence long after he has retired from practice and has ceased to be covered by indemnity insurance." Professional negligence partner at Beachcroft Wansbroughs Helen Staines, Nicholas Davidson QC of Four New Square and David Drake of Serle Court Chambers acted for the appellant, the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF). Cave was represented by Isle of Wight firm Roach Pittis & Co, Brian Doctor QC of Fountain Court, and Patrick Lawrence QC of 4 Paper Buildings. Davidson said: "The decision is consistent with the Law Commission's view as to what the law ought to be. The conscientious but negligent person is not exposed to an unending limitation period." Staines said: "Today's decision will come as a great relief to all professional firms, including solicitors, surveyors, architects and accountants, retired professionals and their insurers." Later this year, the Lord Chancellor's Department is due to decide whether legislation relating to limitation should be enacted.