Court backs clerk's dismissal from chambers

A SENIOR clerk who paid a solicitors' cheque to chambers into his wife's account was “lawfully dismissed” from his post at 9 King's Bench Walk, the County Court has ruled.

But Judge Anthony Diamond QC said the chambers of Ashe Lincoln QC was only entitled to use Nigel Coyne's “dishonest” behaviour as grounds for the 1991 dismissal, and not his extra-marital affair with a junior barrister.

The court heard that his employment in chambers was terminated after two junior clerks told barristers they would leave the set if Coyne, who was involved in a relationship with Rebecca Littlewood, remained. He was dismissed and Littlewood left the set.

She then moved to Stuart Stevens' chambers at 3 King's Bench Walk, and it was agreed Coyne would also join the set in a voluntary capacity.

However, Stevens, who says he was “dissatisfied” with Coyne, ended the agreement in January last year. Littlewood also left when the set transferred to Holborn Chambers last October.

She has since set up Trafalgar Chambers with Christopher Cleverly and Coyne is senior clerk at the set.

But Judge Diamond said although Coyne and Littlewood's relationship had caused problems at 9 King's Bench Walk, it was the discovery that a £1,571 payment from a solicitor to chambers had been put by Coyne into his wife's account that formed the grounds for dismissal.

Coyne said the cheque, from a lawyer he knew, was made out in his name instead of the chambers account. He said he had asked another clerk to prepare invoices and he intended to withdraw other cheques to cover the amount.

But the judge said Coyne had not returned the money and he presented no “plausible” excuse for his actions. “In these circumstances, while I do not think that the plaintiff intended permanently to deprive chambers of the sum I have in the end concluded that I must draw the inference that the plaintiff's conduct went far beyond mere carelessness or inadvertence.

“I do not regard this as the conduct of an honest person. In my view it involved an element of conscious wrongdoing and must therefore be characterised as dishonest.”

But Coyne says: “Basically the truth was not told. I am happy in the knowledge that I spoke the truth.”

– Police are investigating an alleged arson at Holborn Chambers earlier this year. The incident, only months after the set moved from 3 King's Bench Walk, caused £1,500 worth of damage. It is believed the police are seeking two men, who were seen on the premises on the night of the fire.