A barrister accused of giving two pieces of negligent advice about the same case can be sued even though allegations arising from the first set of advice are statute-barred, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
In Sciortino v Beaumont, Lord Justice Coulson said that where there are two or more allegedly negligent pieces of advice, ‘there is no general principle of logic or common sense which requires any sort of “relation back”, such as to say that the limitation period was triggered by the first occasion on which the negligent advice was given, regardless of any subsequent breaches of duty’.
The case concerns barrister Marc Beaumont’s involvement with a client’s bankruptcy. The client – who had received legal aid – issued a claims form against Beaumont on 25 October 2017, based on advice given in April/May 2011 and written advice of 26 October 2011. The claim form was issued more than six years after the advice of April/May 2011, but just within six years of 26 October 2011.
The Court of Appeal ruled that lower courts were wrong to conclude that the negligence claim arising out of the advice of 26 October 2011 was statute-barred.
‘It seems to me that any alleged negligence in October 2011 was different in nature and extent to any prior negligence in April/May. The respondent was being asked to give different and more comprehensive advice, in very different circumstances. Although there was an overlap… there were also significant differences in the nature and scope of the advices provided and the material available for consideration on each occasion,’ Coulson LJ said.
The court did not rule on the merits of the October negligence allegations, saying they were not suitable for disposal by summary judgment.
Responding to the judgment, Beaumont said: ‘I did my very best for Mr Sciortino as I do for everyone faced with overwhelming odds against powerful opposition. The issue of limitation may well have broader consequences for the bar and for solicitors. These may well require further consideration in another place. There is no finding of fault against me.’
Last week, the Supreme Court found that a negligence claim brought by disgruntled trustees was out of time because the day following a midnight deadline constitutes a ‘complete undivided day’.
In Matthew and others v Sedman and others, five Supreme Court justices were asked to clarify ‘midnight deadlines’ and to decide whether the day immediately following the stroke of midnight counts towards the calculation of a limitation period.