Bar Council faces £50,000 damages for 'libellous' letter

A solicitor is suing the Bar Council for libel damages over a letter written by the council's head of professional standards and legal services department.
Robert Kearns and his Swansea-based firm, Kearns & Co, which specialises in company commercial and litigation work, are seeking damages of more than £50,000 and an injunction banning repetition of the words written by Mark Stobbs.
Also joined in the action with Kearns is his company Kearns Agency, which specialises in litigation agency work.
Kearns claims that while his practice relies on having an unblemished reputation, Stobbs wrote to the heads of barristers' chambers last September accusing him and his businesses of improper and possibly unlawful conduct of the most serious kind.
It is alleged that Stobbs wrote that it would be professionally improper for any barrister to accept instructions from Kearns, his firm, or his company. Kearns states in his claim form that one set of chambers, within days of receiving Stobbs' letter, told Kearns that it would no longer accept instructions from him.
The accusation goes on to say that in the letters to the chambers, Stobbs claimed that Kearns and his businesses were holding themselves out as solicitors when they were not. Stobbs allegedly wrote that they were wrongfully trying to prevent barristers, whom Kearns claimed to have instructed himself, from contacting the real instructing solicitors. Stobbs also allegedly wrote that they were seeking to mislead a court by failing to separately identify their fees in costs they tried to recover at court hearings through counsel.
Kearns claims that he has suffered very great distress, anxiety and embarrassment, and that his and his businesses' reputations have been seriously injured. He and his businesses are also seeking aggravated damages.
It is also alleged that Stobbs sent the letters despite the Bar Council knowing that Kearns and his businesses were entirely proper, and that there was no firm basis for the allegations.
According to the claim form, weeks earlier, the executive secretary of the professional standards committee Bhavna Patel had written to David O'Sullivan, a former pupil of Cloisters chambers, stating that Kearns Agency was a recognised body and that it was fine to accept instructions from it.
It is also alleged that the Bar Council failed to contact Kearns' businesses or the Law Society to check on the status of the accused firms before sending the letter.
The claim form states that the bar has refused to compensate Kearns and his businesses for damage to reputation, or to join in a statement in open court. It claims that the council has also refused to provide an undertaking not to repeat the allegations in future.
Kearns Agency was recognised by the Law Society in April 2001 and began trading in July. Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners is acting for the claimant.
The Bar Council is vigorously defending the action but was unavailable for comment.