Pulvers (a firm) v Chan & Ors, Court of Appeal - Chancery Division, October 29, 2007, [2007] EWHC 2406 (Ch)

Resolution Date:October 29, 2007
Issuing Organization:Chancery Division
Actores:Pulvers (a firm) v Chan & Ors
 
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Neutral Citation Number: [2007] EWHC 2406 (Ch)

Case No: HC05C01355

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

CHANCERY DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 29/10/2007

Before :

MR JUSTICE MORGAN

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Between :

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Mr Charles Douthwaite & Mr Stephen Innes (instructed by Mills & Reeve) for the Claimant

The 2nd Defendant appeared in person on behalf of himself and the 4th Defendant

The 5th Defendant appeared in person

The 9th Defendant appeared in person

The other Defendants did not appear and were not represented

Hearing dates: 11th, 12th, 13th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 23rd &24th July 2007

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Judgment

Mr Justice Morgan :

The Claimant

  1. The Claimant is a firm of solicitors, Pulvers. In the period relevant for the purposes of these proceedings, Pulvers was a firm with two partners, Mr Alan R Pulver and a Mr Goldman. Before and after the relevant period, the practice was that of a sole practitioner, Mr Pulver. Mr Pulver qualified as a solicitor in 1959 and commenced practice as a sole practitioner under the name Alan R Pulver & Co. In the late 1980s, he changed the name of the practice to its present name, Pulvers. At the times which are material to these proceedings, Pulvers practised from an address in Watford and later removed to another address in Watford. Mr Pulver has always undertaken conveyancing work, both residential and commercial. From time to time, he has employed others to run or manage the domestic conveyancing department of Pulvers.

    The Defendants

  2. The First Defendant is a Mr Nevil Chan. Mr Chan has been described as a mortgage broker. Mr Chan has been served with the proceedings but has taken no active part in them. Summary judgment was given against Mr Chan on the 18th January 2006. I was told by Mary West (the Ninth Defendant) that Mr Chan did in fact attend the hearing by sitting in the public area of the court but he did not make himself known to the court and did not take any part in the proceedings.

  3. The Second Defendant is Mr David Endean. Mr Endean served a defence and appeared in person at the trial.

  4. The Third Defendant is a Mr John Farmer. The Claimant has been unable to locate Mr Farmer and accordingly he has not been served with these proceedings.

  5. The Fourth Defendant is Miss Susan Hooker. Miss Hooker is the domestic partner of the Second Defendant, Mr Endean. Miss Hooker served a defence and Mr Endean appeared on her behalf at the hearing. Miss Hooker did not attend the hearing and did not give evidence.

  6. The Fifth Defendant is Mr Paul Howell. Mr Howell served a defence and appeared at the hearing and gave evidence although he was not able to stay for the entirety of the hearing.

  7. The Sixth Defendant is Mr John Rose. The Claimant could not locate Mr Rose and he has not been served.

  8. The Seventh Defendant is a Mr John Sinclair. Mr Sinclair has been served with these proceedings but has not taken an active part in them. He is the subject of a summary judgment dated 18th January 2006. As will be seen, Mr Sinclair either directly or through various companies which he controlled, or acting through the agency of others, has been principally responsible for the matters complained of by the Claimant in these proceedings.

  9. The Eighth Defendant is a Mr Ronald St Leger. The Claimant could not locate Mr St Leger and he has not been served.

  10. The Ninth Defendant is Mary West. Mary West has filed a defence and has appeared in person at the trial and has given evidence. At the material times, Miss West was an employee of the Claimant dealing with domestic conveyancing and has been involved in all of the matters now complained of by the Claimant in these proceedings.

  11. The Tenth Defendant is Cavendish Finance Limited. This company has been served with the proceedings but has not taken an active part in them. It is the subject of a summary judgment dated 18th January 2006. Cavendish Finance Limited was incorporated on the 15th July 2002 and dissolved on the 5th September 2006. It was wholly owned by Mr Sinclair. Mr Sinclair was the sole director of this company and the company secretary was Mr Howell.

  12. The Eleventh Defendant is Cosec Facilities Limited. This company has been served but has not taken an active part in the proceedings. It is the subject of a summary judgment dated 18th January 2006. This company was incorporated on 12th January 2001 and dissolved on 11th April 2006. The single issued share was owned, prior to September 2003, by Tracey Whale and from September 2003 by John Whale. The evidence at the trial was that John Whale was an alias for John Sinclair although I note that the various company documents give a date of birth for John Whale which is different from the date of birth for John Sinclair. Tracey Whale was the domestic partner of John Whale/John Sinclair. John Whale was a director of this company.

  13. The Twelfth Defendant is Premium Finance Limited. This company has been served but has not taken an active part in the proceedings. It is the subject of a summary judgment dated 18th January 2006. This company was incorporated on 20th April 1999 and dissolved on 24th April 2007. Mr Sinclair held all of the issued shares in the company. John Sinclair was a director of the company as was Mr Howell.

  14. The Thirteenth Defendant is UK Direct Limited. This company has been served with these proceedings but has not taken an active part in them. An application for summary judgment was made against this company but was not pursued as it was dissolved prior to the hearing of that application. The company was incorporated on 23rd February 2000 and dissolved on 22nd November 2005. Cosec Facilities Limited owned all of the shares in this company. Mr Whale was a director of this company.

  15. The Fourteenth Defendant is Jack Thomas Doughty. He was served with the proceedings but did not take any part in them until after the trial had begun. At that time, Mr Jack Thomas Doughty appears to have gone to a firm of solicitors for legal advice and during the hearing, those solicitors served an affidavit from Jack Thomas Doughty dated 13th July 2007. The affidavit was served under cover of a letter stating that Jack Thomas Doughty would not attend the hearing and would not be represented at court. It was stated that he was ``unable to attend at the hearing....due to personal reasons'' but no indication was given as to what these reasons were.

  16. The Fifteenth Defendant is James Doughty, who is the brother of Jack Thomas Doughty. James Doughty's position in relation to procedural matters is the same in all respects as that of Jack Thomas Doughty. James Doughty's affidavit is also dated 13th July 2007.

  17. The Sixteenth Defendant is James Knight. He has been served with the proceedings but not has taken any active part in them.

  18. The Seventeenth Defendant is Deborah Pearman. She has not been served with the proceedings.

    Mary West

  19. I ought now to describe the position of Mary West in a little more detail. Mary West is her maiden name and is the name by which she was known during the period she was employed by Pulvers. Miss West was at one time married to a Mr Francis and apparently used her married name, Mary Francis. For a short time, apparently for some limited purposes, she used the name Mary Laux, this surname being the maiden name of her mother. The marriage with Mr Francis was dissolved and Mary West married a Mr Langton. She used the name Mary Langton when she was employed by an earlier employer, Galbraith & Co. I understand that she remains married to Mr Langton but, as I have stated, whilst she was employed by Pulvers she used the name Mary West and that is the name used in these proceedings.

  20. Mary West has been employed as a conveyancer for many years. Her C.V. refers to her employment in 1987 to 1994 by a firm of solicitors in Northwood when she appears to have dealt with all aspects of domestic conveyancing. Between 1994 to 1996, she worked for a firm of solicitors in Harrow dealing with all usual aspects of residential conveyancing. From 1996 to about 1998, she worked for Galbraith & Co in Pinner dealing with all forms of residential conveyancing. She also did a more limited amount of commercial conveyancing. From 1998 to 2001, Mary West worked as a conveyancer for Curry Popeck in Kenton. In March 2001, Mary West was engaged by Pulvers as a conveyancer. Her letter of appointment referred to her running Pulvers' domestic conveyancing department. Miss West's formal qualifications as a conveyancer are that she passed Part I of the Institute of Legal Executives examination on conveyancing and, apparently, took some of that Institute's exams for Part II.

  21. The evidence differed as to Miss West's capabilities as a conveyancer. Mr Pulver's evidence, at any rate as to the initial period, praised her abilities as a conveyancer. Miss West's evidence tended to minimise her abilities as a conveyancer. Miss West stated that she needed to be supervised when she was at Pulvers although it is clear that she had acted as a conveyancer without any significant supervision for many years before joining Pulvers. Miss West's evidence also emphasised her lack of discipline and commitment in carrying out her conveyancing duties and she described how her files were a mess most of the time.

  22. In the first two years following Miss West's employment, Mr Pulver appears to have been satisfied with Miss West's work as a conveyancer. Then he began to receive complaints about her failure to return telephone calls from clients. These clients' complaints led to a monitoring visit from the Law Society in February 2004. The Law Society identified some particular issues in relation to Miss West's files. These included: a lack of attendance notes, a minimal amount of letters written to clients, complaints by clients about failure to...

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