Category Archives: Legal Practice

Solicitors’ application to Land Registry was negligent misstatement

What follows is a cautionary tale.

In Chief Land Registrar v Caffrey & Co [2016] clients sent their solicitors a Form DS1 Land Registry discharge purportedly signed on behalf of their bank to discharge a mortgage.

It was a forgery.

The clients told the solicitors that the bank was represented by another firm of solicitors, but that was untrue too.

The solicitors did not contact the bank or the so-called bank’s solicitors to verify the DS1 or that the “bank’s solicitors” were actually instructed on it. They submitted the Form DS1 to the Land Registry with a Form AP1 to apply to delete the mortgage.

The Land Registry asked for evidence that the person signing the DS1 had authority to do so on behalf of the bank.

The client supplied the solicitors with a purported power of attorney seemingly appointing four individuals, including the apparent signatory to the Form DS1, as the bank’s attorneys.

The solicitors sent a certified copy of the purported power to the Land Registry. The Land Registry acted on the application, the copy power and the Form DS1, and removed the mortgage from the property’s land register.

Later Santander UK plc lent money on the security of a charge on the property.

When the original Bank discovered that it’s mortgage had been removed, it applied to reinstate it to the register, but Santander objected. A Land Registry adjudicator decided that the original bank’s mortgage should be reinstated, but ranked it after Santander’s mortgage. The original bank then sought and obtained an indemnity for it’s loss from the Land Registry. The Land Registry then sued the solicitors to recoup their outlay under that indemnity.

The first basis of claim was negligence for having assumed a duty of care to the bank and then having breached it. The Land Registry claimed to be subrogated, by Land Registration Act 2002, s 103, Schedule 8, paragraph 10, to that claim of the bank against the solicitors.

But the High Court Master pointed out that the solicitor was acting for the borrowers in the discharge of the bank’s mortgage, and not for the bank, which had conflicting interests. The solicitors had been told that the bank had its own solicitors and so had no reason:
– to think that the bank was relying on it in any way,
– to disclaim any duty towards the bank or,
– to advise it to take its own advice.
Nor was the bank unsophisticated.

The solicitors were never asked to act on behalf of the bank, and never thought they were doing so. They thought that the bank was independently advised. The solicitors were acting for the borrowers, not the bank. The borrowers were not giving instructions to the solicitors on behalf of the bank, but on their own behalf.

The actual act which caused the loss was the act of the Land Registry in removing the charge, not the act of the solicitors in supplying the information to the Land Registry. Facilitating the causing of harm by another person was only grounds for negligence liability in exceptional cases e.g. where someone supplies a dangerous object to, or creates a dangerous situation for, someone else who is known to be irresponsible, or where someone’s job is to take reasonable care to prevent someone else’s actions.

“A solicitor asked to do something for his or her client and against the interests of another person is necessarily doing something capable of harming the other person. If it is done carelessly, it may harm that person even more. But that hardly militates for imposing a duty of care.

The solicitors were responsible for submitting the documents to the Land Registry without making checks. But that is what they were asked to do and their clients could have complained had they not done that. That contractual duty was undertaken to the clients alone.

“The act (of submitting the documents without first making checks) would have been easy to avoid, but at the price of not acting for the clients, or at any rate of greater expense to the clients. Moreover, the bank also has another remedy, i.e. against the [Land Registry].”

Registered land was known to property lawyers and to others, at that time, to be insufficiently secure against that kind of fraud. That was not the solicitors’ fault. The real question was how the law should allocate the risks of such fraudulent activity.

The Land Registry claimed to be subrogated to the rights of the bank. So the issue was to be determined as between the bank and the solicitors. The solicitors had not designed or run the system and it was not fair just or reasonable to make the solicitors responsible to the bank for the risk of fraud within an inherently risky Land Registration system. So the claim failed so far as it was based on negligence.

The Land Registry’s second basis for claim was negligent misstatement i.e. that by completing and/or submitting the application to the Land Registry and/or certifying a copy of the purported power of attorney and/or supplying it to the Registry, the solicitors “expressly or impliedly represented to the Land Registry that they had taken sufficient steps or measures and/or knew of sufficient facts to satisfy [themselves] that” the discharge form had been properly executed, solicitors had been instructed, the power of attorney was valid, the bank wished to discharge the charge, and that the property was no longer charged in favour of the bank.

The Land Registry said that the relationship between the solicitors and the Land Registry was such that the solicitors “knew or ought to have known that the Land Registry would rely upon” those representations in dealing with the application to discharge the bank’s charge, and so “the [solicitors] owed to the [Land Registry] a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that the [representations] were true.” The Land Registry said the representations were false, that it had relied on them and that it had thereby been caused loss.

Unlike the first negligence ground where the Land Registry claimed to be subrogated to the rights of the bank, and the question therefore arose as between the bank and the solicitors, here the issues arose directly between the Land Registry and the solicitors.

The Land Registry had professional staff who might be expected to have systems for checking matters themselves. They did not just blindly accept whatever the solicitors told them.

However the High Court Master was narrowly persuaded that, on the peculiar facts of this case, the solicitors had assumed a duty to take care in the representations which they had made to the Land Registry.

So the Master gave default judgment to the Land Registry, on the second cause of action, for damages to be assessed.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.

Losses of solicitor’s negligence largely cancelled by buyers’ damage reduction work

In a legal transaction a solicitor should advise the client on all information, that the solicitor should have gleaned from due diligence, that might have a bearing on the price the client is paying for the property.

This is to give the client the opportunity to pull out or renegotiate the price if there is anything untoward that the solicitor should have found out about.

In Bacciottini & Anor v Goldsmith [2014] the property had been a barn attached to a hall.

The 1974 planning permission for conversion of the barn to a dwelling contained a condition that “the converted barn shall be used only as ancillary accommodation solely in conjunction with the occupation of Snape Hall as a single private dwelling.”

The solicitor who dealt with a later £575,000 purchase of the property failed to tell the buyers about the restriction.

Without the restriction the property was in fact then worth only about £550,000. With the restriction it was only worth £450,000.

That the court found it worth as much as that may seem strange. Now owned separately from the Hall the condition precluded it being lawfully occupied as a dwelling since it could no longer be occupied as part of the Hall as the condition required.

The High Court accepted that the solicitors had breached their duty in failing to provide the information that would have enabled the buyers to renegotiate the price before committing themselves to the purchase. Indeed the solicitors accepted this too.

However the court was far from convinced that the negotiations would have got the price down to anywhere near £450,000 not least because getting the restriction lifted was a relatively simple matter. In fact after discovering it the buyers had no choice but to do this. For one thing they had a legal duty to try and reduce or mitigate their loss and applying to get the restriction lifted was part and parcel of that duty.

Their application to lift the condition had been successful in November 2009. Nearly all the loss they had suffered had been eradicated by that mitigation.

The court agreed with the defendant solicitors that the buyers’ actual loss was a mere £250 and awarded that as damages.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.

Court draws line under property solicitor’s liability

In deciding whether a law firm has been negligent towards a property client the court must decide what was the scope of the law firm’s engagement?

Secondly if the engagement covered the relevant service was the law firm negligent in its performance of that service?

Thirdly, if the law firm was in negligent breach was that breach the cause of the claimant’s loss?

Fourthly even if the law firm is on the hook for the above the claimant must not rack up unnecessary additional losses by acting unreasonably in the mistaken belief that the solicitor or his insurers will simply foot the bill.

In the High Court case of Rentokil Initial 1927 Plc v Goodman Derrick Llp [2014] Taylor Wimpey had taken a strong line over the terms of a planning condition when negotiating a conditional purchase agreement for the claimant’s property.

The claimant said the respondent’s negotiation of that clause had left Taylor Wimpey too much latitude to reject the planning permission obtained on the grounds of excessive infrastructure agreement costs when the claimant had been led to believe that the only infrastructure agreement costs to be taken into account were those under the Section 106 Agreement.

The court accepted that the reference to Section 106 Agreement costs was fairly standard short hand embracing all the infrastructure agreement costs associated with the planning stage.

The court also accepted that the respondent’s engagement was limited to advising on the legal issues that did or might arise from the terms of the contract, and not on the planning or commercial issues that did or might arise from it.

Here the planning issues had been devolved to a firm of planning consultants retained by the claimant and the claimant was itself commercially very experienced and sophisticated. Indeed one of the main contacts there was himself a solicitor. Both the planning consultant and the claimant had been kept copied in and informed during the negotiation stage.

The court found the respondent solicitors’ draftsmanship and advice adequate.

The court also accepted that the draftsmanship and advice had not caused any loss because it was generally known that Taylor Wimpey would not have agreed to any different terms and the claimant exchanged contracts with them with that knowledge.

In fact the conditions, imposed by the planning permission, that Taylor Wimpey were using the contract to rail against were to be expected in the circumstances and not such as to prevent the sale from proceeding. Indeed the claimant would have won its case had the issue gone to arbitration under the contract as it should have done.

Given the state of the property market in 2008 and Taylor Wimpey’s financial position it had been inevitable that Taylor Wimpey would have sought to “chip” the original contract price.

In any event the amount of the reduction the claimant had agreed to induce Taylor Wimpey to complete the purchase was too great and reflected an excessive anxiety to get the property off its hands to Taylor Wimpey.

So the claim was not surprisingly dismissed.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.

Salaried partner not liable to property clients

Section 14 of the Partnership Act 1890 provides for a person to be liable as a partner where:

First, the person in question has been held out as a partner in a firm; and,

Secondly, two further sub-elements have been complied with:

A the claimant must have “given credit” to the firm; and,

B such “credit” must have been “given” in reliance upon (“upon the faith of”) the representation that the defendant was a partner.

In Nationwide Building Society v Lewis [1998] the Court of Appeal said ‘given credit’ was not to be construed restrictively and could apply to ‘any transaction of the firm’.

There is no presumption of reliance in favour of a claimant. The claimant must prove, in every case, that in entering into the contract for legal services with the relevant firm, they had, in some way, relied upon the fact that the headed paper, or other representation, held the employee out as a partner of the firm.

As the High Court said in Sangster v Biddulph [2005] the claimant must satisfy the court that, on the balance of probabilities, the holding out or representation had a material influence on the claimant’s decision to proceed with the proposed transaction through those solicitors.

The holding out or reliance does not need to have had a decisive effect but it must have been a contributing causative factor in the claimant’s decision to use the firm.

In Walsh & Ors v Needleman Treon (A Firm) & Ors [2014] the claimants claimed against Mr N and Mr T, the equity partners of the firm, under an agreement whereby the firm was to act for the claimants in short term bridging finance transactions protected by legal charges over properties.

Thc claimants sought to establish liability, also, against a Mr Prior who resisted this on the basis that, as a “salaried partner”, he was an employee of the firm, albeit also the head of the firm’s property department and held out a “partner” on the firm’s letterhead.

The High Court said the claim did not begin to make out a case of material reliance by the claimants on any holding out of Mr Prior as a partner.

There had been nothing to suggest that any of the claimants would, or might, have done anything differently had Mr Prior not been held out as a partner.

Even when one of the claimants began to become concerned about the prospects of repayment, the most that could be said was that that claimant had felt reassured because of Mr Prior’s specialist skills and seniority- nothing necessarily to do with his status, or otherwise, as a partner.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not remove the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.

Property buyer bore restrictive covenant losses incurred after ignoring solicitor’s belated advice

In Darby & Darby (A Firm) v Joyce [2014] Mrs Joyce bought a house subject to covenants “Not to make any alteration or addition to the exterior or external appearance of the Property [Tamarisk] or the buildings thereon nor to erect any walls, fences or buildings (whether temporary or otherwise) without first obtaining the written consent of the Transferor [the Hoyles]”

Darby & Darby solicitors did not advise her, during their handling of her purchase, as to the existence of the covenants and she began internal and external alterations. Only when the Hoyles had indicated the imminence of injunction proceedings the following December did Darby and Darby tell Mrs Joyce to stop work.

Mrs Joyce ignored the advice suspending work only on the patio causing further wasted expense and her having to pay the costs of injunction proceedings.

Darby and Darby denied liability for those further expenses and costs.

The Court of Appeal agreed.

Whilst Mr Darby had not previously given comprehensive advice as to the effect of the covenants, she had understood the advice he had given her on 10 January. She was being advised to stop work and settle or else face litigation. Albeit he should have sent her away to get independent advice, the advice was good. She elected to reject it. So she was the cause of the injunction proceedings and, their costs.

So the Court of Appeal upheld the solicitors’ appeal against the lower court’s order that they compensate for those further expenses and additional costs.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not remove the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.

No preventative representations could get round failure to execute deeds properly

Where documents were not in fact executed in accordance with the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989 (“the 1989 Act”), does the fact that documents were described as deeds and meant to be such prevent (“estop”) the signatories from denying that the defective deeds were validly executed?

Briggs & Ors v Gleeds (Head Office) & Ors [2014] concerned a pension scheme (“the Scheme”) for employees of partnerships and companies within the Gleeds group (“Gleeds”).

As will be seen later the case is an important one on the 1989 Act and estoppel and deeds – all of which play an important role in property law.

The Scheme’s case that the signatories could be prevented (estopped) from denying that the defective pension deeds were validly executed failed on factual and legal grounds.

The Facts

Gleeds argued that:

1. By supplying the draft deeds and, perhaps, instructions as to how they should be executed, the Scheme’s Pension Adviser (“Aon”) impliedly represented to Gleeds and Scheme members that, legally speaking, execution in the manner indicated by the drafts would suffice; and

2. Gleeds and Scheme members relied on the representations to their detriment; and

3. Aon were acting on instructions from the Scheme trustees at the relevant times and so the representations should be attributed to the trustees; and

4. In the circumstances, an estoppel had arisen precluding both the trustees and Gleeds and Scheme members from challenging how the deeds were executed.

Fatally to Gleeds case the court found that Aon could not be said to have made such representations for the trustees, or on the trustees’ behalf, to the Gleeds and Scheme members in relation to the execution of the defective deeds.

Main Legal issue

The main legal issue was “how far could the principle of estoppel be invoked to prevent a party from asserting that the statutory requirements for a deed (under the 1989 Act) have not been satisfied?”

The court concluded that estoppel cannot be invoked where a document does not even appear to comply with the 1989 Act on its face or, in any event, could not be so invoked in the particular circumstances of that case. For the following reasons:

i) Parliament had imposed the evidential requirement that an individual must sign “in the presence of a witness who attests the signature” otherwise his deed was not validly executed as such; and

ii) The “deeds” at issue here were not “apparently valid”. It could be seen from each document that it had not been executed in accordance with the 1989 Act.

Had it been otherwise a person can sometimes be estopped (or prevented) from denying due attestation.

But if estoppel could be invoked in relation to documents that were not “apparently valid” people would not know where they stood with them and there would be uncertainty. The validity of a deed may remain important for many years. In relation to older “deeds” people without personal knowledge of the circumstances in which they were executed would not know whether they were valid or not.

A party to a “deed”, who had not himself executed the document in compliance with the 1989 Act, would have an election as to whether the document should be regarded as valid. If the document turned out inconvenient to him he could deny its status as a deed. But if it proved advantageous he could invoke estoppel.

So, if a “deed” provided for a pension scheme to change to money purchase instead of a final salary scheme, an employer who had not had his signature to the document witnessed could wait and see whether the change had actually been favourable to him; and

iii) if estoppel could be invoked in circumstances such as these Parliament’s and the Law Commission’s aims, behind the 1989 Act, to address those kinds of issues would be seriously undermined.

So, the members of the Scheme were not estopped (prevented) from refuting that the defective deeds had been validly executed since (a) Aon could not be said to have made representations on the Scheme trustees’ behalf to Gleeds or Gleeds Scheme members as to the execution of the defective deeds; and (b) estoppel could not be invoked to get around the 1989 Act in circumstances where it was quite apparent that the documents were not validly executed as deeds.

This blog has been posted as a matter of general interest. It does not remove the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.

Mortgage solicitors liable for failure to disclose recent previous price to lender

In the recent High Court case E.Surv Ltd v Goldsmith Williams Solicitors [2014] the claimant surveyors E.Surv Limited (“the surveyors”), wanted a contribution under the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 from the defendant solicitors Goldsmith Williams (“the solicitors”), towards compensation they had paid to a mortgage lender, The Mortgage Business (“the lender”), in settlement of its claim for damages for negligent over-valuation of Quarnford Lodge, near Buxton (“the property”).

The surveyors claimed that, in breach of the express/implied terms of its contract with the lender, the solicitors failed to advise the lender that the would-be borrower, David Gayler (“the borrower”), had been registered as proprietor of the property for less than 6 months and that the price he had paid for it as disclosed on the Land Registry official copy entries, £390,000, was vastly less than the surveyors’ valuation, £725,000, as stated in the mortgage offer.

The High Court ruled that a solicitor must perform his express obligations under the Council of Mortgage Lenders’ Handbook by obtaining and reading the Land Registry official copies for the property and reading a copy of the valuation report provided to him.

If in so doing the solicitor discovered information from the official copies about the recent purchase price which had a material bearing on the property’s valuation, then the solicitor was under an obligation to the lender to disclose it.

That was an obligation which fell within the limitations of the Lenders’ Handbook. It was expressly preserved by clause 1.3 of that Handbook, and must be performed unless doing so would involve a conflict of interest.

Clause 5.1.2 of the Lenders’ Handbook covered the solicitor’s duties in cases of such conflicts.

A lender sent the sort of solicitors’ letter which ought to have been sent here would naturally have gone back to the valuer for his comments.

As this would have led to a more realistic downward valuation the solicitors were found liable to contribute to the damages paid to the lender.

This blog has been posted as a matter of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.

The Big Bang under the Legal Market

 

The Legal Market is undergoing a “Big Bang”.  There will be more demand than ever but most services will be commoditised with the emphasis shifting more to cost effective technical access, research and delivery than traditional legal firms and (except for 20 or so yellow book firms) not from prestigious Ivory Towers in the City.  Other delivery will be online retail by  law companies working from cheap out of town premises with perhaps a token city centre presence,  virtual law firms of people working from home and sole practitioners with a laptop to visit clients with, a home office and indemnity insurance.  More on my Twitter Page @PhilipJTaylor1.

Those traditional law firms tied into long leases of largely redundant city centre office space will be lugging their millstones behind virtual firms unincumbered by that now greatly unnecessary infrastructure.