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Figments of imagination (so many figments)

 

When a High Court Judge opens their judgment with a line like this:-

 

The facts giving rise to the present application are so extraordinary that they could have come from one of A.P.Herbert’s “Misleading Cases”.

 

Then I am pretty much Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire – “you had me at hello”

 

A .P. Herbert is my inspiration for legal writing, and his Misleading Cases one of my favourite books – I lost my copy in the RCJ last year and I still feel the ache of its absence when the weather is cold…

 

Sometimes, when you see a Judge criticise a person, you have a degree of sympathy – anyone can make a mistake, anyone can make a poor decision, anyone can have a bad day. Sometimes, you think “there but for the grace of God”

 

Not this time.

 

Islamic Investment Company of the Gulf Bahamas Ltd v Symphony Gems Ltd 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Comm/2014/3777.html

 

is not, as you will have gathered from that lofty case name, a family case.

 

So you don’t HAVE to read it – it tells you nothing illuminating about family law. But if you make the time, it will pay off, I assure you.

 

In this case, a Mr Mehtra (RM) had found himself in tricky litigation in the commercial Courts. It involves a debt of £10 million, which the Court previously ordered he should pay, and now interest on top of £4 million.

 

It is, pretty self-evidently, a tricky case.

 

It has been made more tricky for RM because for about three years, his lawyer Mr Benson, formerly a partner at Byrne and Partners (now not) had been running the litigation in a peculiar way.

 

By peculiar, I mean making things up. And by making things up, I don’t mean “Oh, Mr Mehtra, I was just about to ring you, I’m so glad you’ve called”.

 

Nor do I mean ” Have you lost weight? Seriously, have you been working out or something?”

 

I mean, fabricating every single thing that he told his client, including documentary evidence to support that.

 

I’ll quickly make it plain that the Court were totally satisfied that Byrne and Partners knew nothing about this and were not involved in any way.

 

Also that the Court had not heard from Mr Benson, and that it is (theoretically) possible that he has a good explanation for it. I can’t for the life of me imagine what that might be, but there could be one. If he instructs Perry Mason, Atticus Finch, Clarence Darrow, Mrs Jo Mills, Edward Marshall Hall, Kavanagh QC, Olivia Pope, Phoenix Wright, Maxine Peake out of Silk and My Cousin Vinny they might jointly come up with one on his behalf, but I doubt it.

 

By way of flavour (and there’s loads and loads of this, I’m just pulling out some examples). Remember in relation to all of them that RM had instructed Mr Benson to make an application to Court, but that at no point did Mr Benson do anything about it in the real world, he instead just made up a detailed and plausible account of how that was going.

 

So he was :-

 

Telling his client that a silk had been briefed for him (nope) and then that the silk had been changed (well, yes, but only changing one imaginary briefing for another) – in all, four silks were dragged into this case on a purely imaginary basis.

 

Telling his client that the silk was dragging his heels and that’s why things were taking so long (well, no, because he’d never actually told the silk anything about the case or asked the silk to do anything)

 

Sending the client letters to the High Court chasing up about hearings (having never sent any application to the High Court, he obviously didn’t send letters chasing it up)

 

Sending his client fabricated orders from the High Court, culminating in even making up Judges who were supposedly making these orders

 

Sending his client a skeleton argument prepared by his silk (nope, because there was no silk instructed. He did this TWICE. )

 

Arranging a telephone conference between his client, himself and a ‘senior partner’ at his firm to discuss the case (the ‘senior partner’ was not anyone connected with the firm, but someone impersonating him)

 

Sending his client fake emails from the other side

 

Sending his client a draft letter of complaint to a High Court Judge about the delay in the case (obviously never sent, because the High Court had never been asked to do anything, so there was nothing to delay)

 

Sending his client a fake judgment in his favour from the Court of Appeal – something that must have taken some effort, because as the Court observed “It runs to 6 pages and comprises 37 plausibly reasoned paragraphs”.   The original judgment was set aside and sent back for re-hearing.

 

As the Court also point out, Hence by this point Mr Benson had constructed a fiction in which RM was effectively back to square one

 

Visiting his client in Antwerp to take instructions for an affidavit which was never filed, because the proceedings were entirely imaginary.

 

Sending another judgment from the High Court following the Court of Appeal’s decision – again, entirely made up

 

Sending letters explaining that yet another silk had attended Court on RM’s behalf to lobby the Senior Presiding Judge about the dreadful delays in the case.

 

Sending emails from High Court Judges clerks about forthcoming hearings and orders

 

And yet another High Court judgment

 

And yet another appeal – which RM won (hooray, only it never happened)

 

 

And then this is where it all unravelled – as RM started to liaise with the Court about getting a typed version of the order and judgment, and the Court rightly said words to the effect of “whatchoo talkin’ bout, Willis?”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0-aQPbzCZE

 

 

RM instructed another solicitor, one who conducted his practice in a world where the sky is blue, and that solicitor made enquiries of the four Silks who had apparently acted on RM’s behalf, none of whom had ever heard of him. At which point, calls were made to the police and to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

 

You might be thinking that this was all some sort of financial con, but it appears not.

 

Firstly, RM had only paid £25,000 to the firm – that sounds like a lot of money to you and I, but for commercial litigation for 3 years in the High Court and Court of Appeal with four silks, it is very small beer indeed. There is no way that the huge amount of work that was being put into this fabrication was in order to trouser £25,000.   Bear in mind Mr Benson was faking not only reams and reams of correspondence, but submissions that were from leading counsel, judgments and appeal court judgments. It would have been far less work to actually just issue the application.

 

The deception practised by Mr Benson over a period of more than 3 years, as summarised above, is rightly described as breathtaking. Until the Police and the SRA have concluded their investigations much remains unclear, including his motives. What is clear, however, is that his actions will have had a significant effect on RM (and his family) who has been strung along for more than 3 years in attempts to challenge the ACO and apparent subsequent court orders and in efforts to demonstrate that he has complied with the order of Master Miller of 17 January 2007. Throughout this time RM has been effectively been prevented from entering this jurisdiction causing obvious distress to himself, his partner and his children (who live in the UK).

 

 

The motives for Mr Benson’s actions are presently unclear. The only payment made on behalf of RM during this period is the payment of £25,000 made to Byrne & Partners pursuant to the supposed consent order dated 4 July 2011. This has now been returned. None of the other payments called for in purported court orders were made. There is some evidence that other payments may have been made to Byrne & Partners but, if so, not by or on behalf of RM. There is also some evidence of a bitter family feud and of parties who might have an interest in ensuring that RM failed in all aspects of the English court litigation. However, at present this is all speculation. Matters will no doubt become clearer as a result of the Metropolitan Police and SRA investigations.

 

 

My best guess – there was a small lie – instead of issuing the application, he sat on it, and instead of admitting that when the client asked how it was going, he lied. And then rather than progressing things, he continued to lie. And then the lies just snowballed to a point where they were utterly utterly out of control.

 

 

I hope so (because the other suggestion, that he had been paid to nobble his own client is just too dark and awful to bear thinking about)

 

This is terrible, terrible stuff. It is hard to think of an example of someone doing a worse job for their client. Lionel Hutz, attorney at law would look askance at this.

 

I feel for Mr Benson on a human level – you don’t get to be a partner at a commercial law firm dealing with multi-million pound claims without being smart, and he has clearly set fire to his career and probably stands to lose everything without any apparent gain. And throughout those three years, he was probably terrified every time he had a day off or was ill, in case someone else from the firm dealt with Mr Mehtra and the whole thing unravelled.

 

You know when you have those nightmares that someone official comes up to you and tells you that there’s been a mistake and you never really passed O Level/GCSE English after all and that as a result all of your other qualifications are flawed? Imagine that level of stress and anxiety, but for real, every day for three years.

 

 

{Before you go to bed tonight, just say to yourself “I wasn’t the lawyer in that case, and I DO really have an O Level in English”, just to avoid nightmares}

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

4 responses

  1. Ashamed to be British

    “This is terrible, terrible stuff. It is hard to think of an example of someone doing a worse job for their client.”

    To be fair, I have to strongly disagree – he could have actually ended up representing this poor man!

  2. This puts a solicitor failing to tell me that I did not actually own the access to my front door in perspective. Found out of course when it came to sell.
    Actually I do have a family law solicitor tale. When my children were taken the local authority made a umm significant omission.
    My solicitor did not work this out either, I did after a while.
    Needless to say the relationship with said solicitor broke down and I had to go through the complaints procedure with the partner.
    Picture the scene , I am showed into the boardroom . In comes the partner sleeves rolled up tie off , it was February, in the manner of David Cameron, Tony Blair etc on a factory visit.
    After a couple of minutes, I cut to the crux should there not have been a judicial review? Well I know better after all it’s my name on the front of the building and I have another branch office in x.
    But?
    Well you haven’t wasted your afternoon you can always go shopping.You will feel better then !

    Thank God other solicitors are available. Incidentally the Legal Services Ombudsman did not uphold a complaint.

  3. “that sounds like a lot of money to you and I”

    Wash your mouth out with soap and learn some basic English grammar!

    • I’m afraid that was the way it was taught at my school* – and though I now know it is wrong, five years of being taught it incorrectly is hard to shift. [* almost certainly on the basis that the Queen always says “my husband and I” and that “me” just sounds common]

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