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Holt v Holley & Steer Solicitors [2020] EWCA Civ 851

This is a second-tier appeal to the Court of Appeal regarding a claim for damages for professional negligence which may be time barred under s2 Limitation Act 1980

The issue was whether Ms Holt's claim for damages for professional negligence, in the conduct of financial dispute proceedings following her divorce, was time-barred under s2 Limitation Act 1980. The District Judge has held that her claim in contract was time-barred under s5 Limitation Act 1980 but her claim in tort could proceed. The circuit judge allowed the defendant's appeal dismissing the claim. She appealed with leave of the Court of Appeal.

McCombe LJ (with whom King LJ and Keehan J agreed) dismissed the appeal.

The facts
At the FDA (1 July 2011), the court ordered valuation of the family home, and of some adjoining land, by a joint expert and that report was available at the FDR. No directions were given for the valuation of some nine "buy-to-let" properties held by Ms Holt and the husband in their separate names, although an order was made for provision of the completion statements for those properties. At the FDR (11 October 2011), further orders were made for the Husband to provide evidence as to the existence and value of items of jewellery that he was claiming that Ms Holt had. No further orders for valuation evidence were sought by the Firm on Ms Holt's behalf. Ms Holt claims in these proceedings that the Firm negligently failed to obtain expert evidence of the value of the investment properties and of her jewellery.

In preparing for the Final hearing the Firm obtained valuations of buy to let properties. The husband's solicitors refused a request to admit them into evidence on the basis that the valuations had been agreed at the FDA. No application was made on Ms Holt's behalf to the court to admit the valuations before or at the final hearing in which the evidence and submissions were completed on 16 March 2012. The draft judgement was delivered on 10 April 2012 and formally handed down on 30 May 2012, when the order was made. On 21 August 2012 a circuit judge refused permission to appeal and ordered Ms Holt to pay the costs of the appeal.

The negligence claim was issued on 5 April 2018. The defendants argued that the claim should have been issued no later than 16 March 2018 (6 years from the conclusion of the evidence) and the claimant's case was that it was the delivery of the judgment that crystallised the loss and the cause of action, meaning that her claim was in time if issued before 12 April 2018.

McComber LJ applied Forster v Outred & Co [1982] 1 WLR 86 (as clarified by the House of Lords in Law Society v Sephton & others [2006] 2 AC 543) and Berney v Saul [2013] EWCA Civ 640. He decided that on the facts pleaded that the cause of action accrued when it became impossible for Ms Holt to argue that the investment properties were under-valued, and her jewellery was overvalued, which was between the FDR  and the close of the case on 16 March 2012. when the DJ had all the information to base his judgment on the distribution of the assets (as valued).[See paras 32-36 ,44 58-61],

Summary by Nicholas O'Brien, barrister Coram Chambers

Read the full judgment of Holt v Holley & Steer Solicitors [2020] EWCA Civ 851 on BAILII