Judge's attack on Leigh Day sparks angry outburst from firm

SOLICITOR Martin Day has hit back at a High Court judge’s stinging ruling during high-profile tobacco litigation by accusing him of “living in an ivory tower”.

Mr Justice Wright ruled that most of Leigh Day s clients who took action against tobacco giants Gallaher and Imperial fell outside the statute of limitations. He went on to criticise their statements of claim as a product of their lawyers’ “ingenuity”, suggesting one of the clients may have grounds for complaint against the firm.

Wright says the statement of claims written by Leigh Day and its barrister misrepresented the plaintiffs. In each one, the plaintiffs argue that proceedings were delayed on three points: lack of legal aid funding, the unavailability of conditional fee agreements before 1995, and the tobacco companies’ promise to contest every case.

Wright ruled: “It is a matter of some concern to me that I have been driven to the conclusion that the reasons pleaded, in the various statements of claims, are the product of the ingenuity of the plaintiff’s legal advisers and do not represent either the reality, or the instructions, given by each individual plaintiff.”

Wright also criticised Leigh Day for failing to issue a writ on behalf of plaintiff John Hodgson within three years of his cancer diagnosis and take instructions from him. He said: “The conclusion that I have come to is that his case simply got overlooked. It may be that Hodgson has grounds for legitimate complaint against his solicitors.”

But Day says the firm “fought like loonies” for its clients. “I don’t agree at all with his [Wright’s] view. It seems to me he’s living in an ivory tower rather than dealing with the reality we faced.”

Having been repeatedly turned down for legal aid between 1992 and 1995, Day says he would have had to seek eight six-month extensions to keep the case alive before the introduction of CFAs. If he had been refused, Hodgson’s case would have been “thrown out”.

Day adds: “Who is he [Wright] to turn around and tell us we should have taken another course? I’m clear in my mind what we did was right.”