Mace & Jones cleared of professional negligence and awarded £800,000

North West firm Mace & Jones has been awarded £800,000 in indemnity costs after it was cleared of professional negligence claims levelled at it by construction company D  Morgan.

David Hart QC
David Hart QC

The company launched two parallel claims against the firm and Kings Chambers’ John Hoggett QC relating to advice provided by the firm on a number of planning issues connected to Bold Heath Quarry in St Helens going back as far as 1992.

The claimant alleged that advice from the firm and counsel on planning conditions had deprived it of an opportunity to exploit the quarry to its full commercial advantage.  The claim totalled some £50m inclusive of interest with a loss of profits claim of some £40m.

According to the judgment, four out of five claims against Mace & Jones were dismissed. In the remaining claim the firm was found to be in breach of contract and D Morgan was awarded nominal damages of £2.

The case against Hoggett, who retired from Kings Chambers in 2006, settled weeks before the case went to full trial without admission of liability. Claims against the firm were dismissed by Mr Justice Coulson in December.

At a subsequent costs hearing One Crown Office Row’s David Hart QC, instructed by Beachcroft consultant Tony Hill for the firm, argued that the claim was exaggerated and fundamentally flawed with lack of disclosure by the claimant. Therefore, the firm said, it should be awarded indemnity costs.

Coulson J noted that co-defendant Hoggett had agreed to pay £2.6m to settle claims brought against him. Any financial loss would be covered by that sum, the judge said.

A Part 36 offer to settle the case for £1.2m plus costs against both defendants had been submitted by the firm, but refused by the claimant.

According to the judgment the claimant’s refusal to accept a settlement was “unreasonable to a high degree”.

Furthermore, the judge added, evidence given by the claimant’s principal witness, named only in the court record as Mr Morgan, was “wholly unsatisfactory”.

Coulson J added: “Unhappily, I was driven to conclude that there was a raft of matters on which Mr Morgan’s evidence was highly unreliable and that, on occasion, he told deliberate untruths in order to bolster his case.”

For these reasons, the judge said, indemnity costs of £800,000 should be awarded in favour of the defendant firm.

Systech Solicitors instructed 4 New Square’s Nicholas Davidson QC to lead Anneliese Day of the same set for the claimant.

Mace & Jones is currently in merger talks with fellow North West Weightmans (7 January 2011).