Lest you be judged

When is a judgment not a judgment? When it’s not clear who wins.

Lest you be judged17 February, 6.12pm

When is a judgment not a judgment? When it’s not clear who wins.

The dispute between Hammonds and a group of ex-partners rumbles on despite Mr Justice Warren’s 186-paragraph High Court judgment. Much like the Israeli elections, both sides are claiming victory.

Hammonds litigator Simon Miller is claiming victory in the first point – whether the ex-partners were deemed to be members of the partnership in 2005 and need to pay back a £1.7m share of profits to the firm.

Which is fine, apart from the fact that the judge says: “I’m not sure that I should go so far as giving an unqualified affirmative answer to the preliminary issue.”

Meanwhile Stephen Tupper, one of the ex-partners, is also pleased with the result. He has interpreted it as an open door to go ahead and sue the firm for financial mismanagement.

Warren J said on Hammonds’ attempt to strike out the ex-partners’ counter claim: “I would only add that I’ve not, in this part of this judgment, said anything which I intend to be binding on either side. Everything is up for argument before the trial judge.”

The whole thing is as clear as mud. From the wording of the judgment, Hammonds can claim to have won on the first point and drawn on the second. But the ex-partners can just as easily say they drew the first point and won the second.

Both are claiming victory because their defences and attacks put emphasis on different aspects of the dispute.

The ex-partners were hoping that Hammonds’ attempt to strike out their counter claim would fail – and it seems to have done just that.

Meanwhile Hammonds was focusing on the ex-partners being part of the Hammonds partnership as described by the firm’s deed. And Warren J seems to have put them in pole position on that front.

It’s not often you get a dispute that ends up with both sides equally happy with the judge’s findings.

If you do have a year going spare, then do read the judgment. It’s a wonderful exercise in evasiveness and reflects just how much fun Warren J had on the case. The Court of Appeal judges must be rubbing their hands with gleeful anticipation.