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Court of Appeal finds negligence claim against solicitors in financial relief case to be time-barred

The Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal against a finding that a £125,000 professional negligence claim against a firm of solicitors for its handling of a divorce was issued too late. In Holt v Holley & Steer Solicitors (a firm) [2020] EWCA Civ 851 it was held unanimously that any alleged cause of action occurred at the conclusion of the final hearing in financial relief proceedings on 16 March 2012, at the latest, and that the six-year limitation period for bringing a claim for professional negligence ran from then. A claim was brought by the appellant against the firm on 5 April 2018 and so was time-barred.

The proceedings had been brought by Ms Holt for alleged professional negligence against the firm in the course of their acting for her in financial relief proceedings on her divorce from her husband, Mr Timothy Rawlings. She claimed that, in the course of those proceedings, the firm negligently failed to obtain expert evidence as to the value of certain real properties and jewellery, and to secure permission to admit such evidence at the financial remedies hearing.

The district judge in the present action had found that Ms Holt's claim against the firm, so far as founded in contract, was time barred, after expiry of the six-year limitation period, by virtue of s.5 of the Limitation Act 1980, but that her claim founded on tort was not so barred by the equivalent provision in s.2 of that Act. The firm appealed against the District Judge's order, in respect of his conclusion as to the claim in tort. Judge Ralton allowed that appeal. The judge found that Ms Holt's claim as a whole, therefore, was barred by both s. 2 and s. 5 of the 1980 Act. As a result, he awarded summary judgment in favour of the firm pursuant to CPR Part 24.

For the judgment, click here.