Hilary Term [2019] UKSC 5 On appeal from: [2017] EWCA Civ 314

Perry (Respondent) v Raleys Solicitors (Appellant)
Lady Hale, President
Lord Wilson
Lord Hodge
Lord Lloyd-Jones
Lord Briggs
13 February 2019
Heard on 27 November 2018
Appellant Respondent
Michael Pooles QC Jonathan Watt
-Pringle QC
Ben Quiney QC John Greenbourne
(Instructed by Berrymans
Lace Mawer LLP
(Instructed by Fry Law
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LORD BRIGGS: (with whom Lady Hale, Lord Wilson, Lord Hodge and Lord
Lloyd-Jones agree)
1. The respondent Mr Frank Perry is a retired miner. Like very many of his
colleagues he had, by the time he ceased working underground in 1994, been
afflicted with a condition known as Vibration White Finger (“VWF”) , which is a
particular type of a wider species of condition affecting the hand and the upper limbs
collectively known as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (“HAVS”), caused by
excessive exposure to the effects of using vibratory tools. One symptom of these
conditions can be a reduction in grip strength and manual dexterity in the fingers. A
common although not invariable consequence is that the sufferer from these
conditions becomes unable, without assistance, to carry out routine domestic tasks
such as gardening, DIY or car maintenance.
2. A group of test cases, representative of some 25,000 similar claims,
established that there had been negligence on the part of the National Coal Board,
later British Coal, in failing to take reasonable steps to limit the exposure of
employed miners to VWF from the excessive use of vibratory tools: see Armstrong
v British Coal Corpn [1998] EWCA Civ1359 [1998] CLY 975. As a result, the
Department for Trade and Industry (which had by then assumed responsibility for
British Coal’s relevant liabilities) set up a scheme (“the Scheme”) in 1999 to provide
tariff-based compensation to miners who had been exposed to excessive vibration
and had therefore suffered from VWF. The Scheme was administered pursuant to a
Claims Handling Arrangement (“CHA”) dated 22 January 1999, and made between
the DTI and a group of solicitors’ firms representing claimant miners suffering from
VWF. The central objective of the CHA was to enable very large numbers of similar
claims, having a common originating cause in British Coal’s systemic negligence,
to be presented, examined and resolved both effectively and at proportionate cost.
3. The Scheme contemplated the making of two main types of compensatory
award to miners suffering from VWF, corresponding broadly with general and
special damages for personal injuries. Pursuant to a Services Agreement dated 9
May 2000, the special damages could include a Services Award to qualifying
miners. This depended upon the claimant establishing what has come to be known
as “the factual matrix”, namely:
i) That before he developed VWF he undertook one or more of six
routine domestic tasks (“the six tasks”), without assistance;
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ii) That he could no longer undertake those tasks without assistance by
reason of his VWF; and
iii) That he had received the necessary assistance with those tasks from
The six tasks may be summarised as:
1) Gardening
2) Window cleaning
3) DIY
4) Decorating
5) Car washing
6) Car maintenance
4. Qualification for a general damages award required the claimant miner to
undertake a medical interview and examination designed to establish, against an
internationally recognised scale, the severity of his VWF. Those shown to be
sufferers at certain high levels of severity were then also entitled to a rebuttable
presumption, in their favour, that they satisfied the qualifying requirements for a
Services Award, but they were required nonetheless to demonstrate, by completion
of a standard form questionnaire, which of the six tasks they had undertaken without
assistance before developing the VWF, and which of the tasks they were no longer
able to undertake without assistance. The Scheme provided for a relatively lighttouch system of checking claims for Services Awards by the claims handlers, which
included questionnaires to be filled in by those assisting the claimant in performing
the six tasks and short telephone interviews, usually with one or more of the
assistants, rather than with the claimant himself. Compensation was then payable to
qualifying claimants in accordance with a detailed index-linked tariff.
5. Proportionate deductions from the tariff amounts were also liable to be made
if the claimant’s reduced ability to perform the six tasks unaided was caused in part
by other contributory medical conditions. For this purpose, claimants were required
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to undertake a further medical examination for the purpose of the assessment of comorbidity, as it was described. Again, the amount of the reductions (if any) from the
full Services Award was determined in accordance with a tariff based upon the
medical examiner’s certification of relevant co-morbid conditions on a scale ranging
between nil, material, moderate, serious and complete.
Mr Perry’s claim
6. Mr Perry retained the appellant solicitors firm Raleys to pursue a VWF claim
on his behalf in October 1996, before the setting up of the Scheme. Following the
making of the CHA, his claim continued under the Scheme. In October 1997
Professor Kester reported, after an interview and examination of Mr Perry, that he
suffered from VWF, with ratings (or “stagings” in the jargon of the Scheme) of “3V”
and “3Sn” bilaterally (that is, in both hands). Those stagings were sufficient both for
Mr Perry to obtain general damages and to have entitled him to a presumption in his
favour, of the type described above, in the event that he chose to seek a Services
7. In the event however, Mr Perry settled his claim in November 1999 for
payment of general damages only, in the sum of £11,600, and made no claim for a
Services Award within the available time-frame. Much later, in February 2009, he
issued professional negligence proceedings against Raleys, claiming that by reason
of their negligent failure to give him appropriate advice, he had lost the opportunity
to claim a Services Award, in respect of all of the six tasks, which he quantified in
the sum of £17,300.17 plus interest. He asserted that he had performed all the six
tasks without assistance before developing VWF, and that he had needed assistance
with all those tasks thereafter, which had been provided by his two sons and his
8. In response, Raleys denied a breach of duty and separately denied that any
breach (if proved) would have caused Mr Perry any loss. They alleged also that Mr
Perry’s claim against them was statute barred. Breach of duty was admitted shortly
before the trial. The trial judge, Judge Saffman, rejected the limitation defence on
its merits.
9. After a two-day trial, which included cross-examination of Mr Perry, his wife
and his two sons, the judge concluded that Mr Perry had failed to prove that Raleys’
admitted negligent advice had caused him any loss. This was because, in summary,
the judge found that the VWF from which Mr Perry was suffering when he settled
his claim had not caused him any significant disability in performing any of the six
tasks without assistance, sufficient to have enabled him to make an honest claim for
a Services Award. He therefore dismissed Mr Perry’s claim with costs.
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10. In his detailed and lucid reserved judgment (circulated to the parties within
ten days of the trial) Judge Saffman explained that it was Mr Perry’s complete lack
of credibility as a witness that had led to his finding that he would not have been
able to make an honest claim for a Services Award. His evidence that he was unable
to perform the six domestic tasks without assistance was undermined by his medical
records, which showed that he had made no complaint of lack of manual dexterity
at the relevant time, by evidence (including photographs) of him engaging in fishing
at a time when he said he had given it up due to his manual disability, and by his
failure to offer any credible explanation of those disparities between his case and
that evidence, when cross-examined about them at length. The judge found that the
evidence from his family lacked sufficient credibility to rescue Mr Perry from his
difficulties, and that the medical evidence, while supportive of his case, was
insufficient to swing the balance in Mr Perry’s favour.
11. The judge nonetheless thought it appropriate to assist by setting out the
findings which he would have made as to the quantum of Mr Perry’s claim, if he
had been wrong in rejecting his case on causation. He did so, no doubt, with a view
to minimising the risk that an expensive re-trial would be necessary if an appellate
court concluded that causation had been established. A main plank in Raleys’
defence had been that, even if Mr Perry was to a significant extent incapacitated in
performing the six domestic tasks without assistance at the relevant time, this was
the result of a chronic back problem, rather than VWF. A single joint medical expert,
Mr Tennant, had advised that in his view the contribution made to Mr Perry’s
relevant disability by back troubles lay between moderate and mild, on the comorbidity scale adopted by the Scheme. On the assumption that he had been wrong
in his primary finding that Mr Perry was not hindered by VWF in performing the
six tasks unaided, he held that he would not depart from Mr Tennant’s co-morbidity
assessment. Finally, and again on the same assumption that he had been wrong about
causation, the judge assessed the prospects of success in a Services Award claim,
after being discounted by co-morbidity in accordance with the Scheme’s tariff, at
12. On Mr Perry’s appeal the Court of Appeal reversed the trial judge on
causation, and concluded that his alternative findings as to quantum were
sufficiently reliable to make it unnecessary to direct a re-trial: [2017] EWCA Civ
314. Accordingly, they assessed Mr Perry’s damages in the same amount as the
judge would have assessed them, had he been wrong about causation, namely
£14,556.15 plus interest, plus additional amounts pursuant to CPR Part 36.
13. The Court of Appeal reversed the judge on four grounds, two of which
amounted in their view to errors of law, and the remaining two to shortcomings in
his appraisal of, and conclusions based upon, the evidence. It is convenient to take
the errors of law first.
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14. The Court of Appeal held first that the judge had, in addressing the issue of
causation, wrongly conducted a “trial within a trial” of the very question which
would have arisen if Mr Perry had made a claim for a Services Award, namely
whether in fact (after he ceased work as a miner) he needed assistance, due to his
VWF, in carrying out the six domestic tasks which he had previously been able to
carry out unaided. Secondly, the Court of Appeal concluded that the judge wrongly
imposed the burden upon Mr Perry to prove that fact on the balance of probabilities.
This approach was, in the view of the Court of Appeal, contrary to well-settled
authority about the burden upon a claimant in relation to causation, following a
breach by a professional person of a duty of care.
The Law about Causation in Professional Negligence cases
15. The assessment of causation and loss in cases of professional negligence has
given rise to difficult conceptual and practical issues which have troubled the courts
on many occasions. The most recent example at the level of this court is Gregg v
Scott [2005] UKHL 2; [2005] 2 AC 176 in which the House of Lords had to wrestle
with the intractable question whether negligent medical advice, which reduced the
patient’s prospects of long-term survival from cancer from 42% to 25%, sounded in
damages when, probably, he would have died anyway, even if competently treated.
16. Commonly, the main difficulty arises from the fact that the court is required
to assess what if any financial or other benefit the client would have obtained in a
counter-factual world, the doorway into which assumes that the professional person
had complied with, rather than committed a breach of, his duty of care. The everyday
task of the court is to determine what, in fact, happened in the real world rather than
what probably would have happened in a what-if scenario generally labelled the
counter-factual. Similar difficulties arise where the question of causation or
assessment of damage depends upon the court forming a view about the likelihood
of a future rather than past event.
17. In both those types of situation (that is the future and the counter-factual) the
court occasionally departs from the ordinary burden on a claimant to prove facts on
the balance or probabilities by having recourse to the concept of loss of opportunity
or loss of a chance. Sometimes the court makes such a departure where the strict
application of the balance of probability test would produce an absurd result, for
example where what has been lost through negligence is a claim with substantial but
uncertain prospects of success, where it would be absurd to decide the negligence
claim on an all or nothing basis, giving nothing if the prospects of success were 49%,
but full damages if they were 51%: see Hanif v Middleweeks (a firm) [2000] Lloyd’s
Rep PN 920 per Mance LJ at para 17. A further reason why this is a generally
unrealistic approach is that most claims with evenly balanced prospects of success
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or failure are turned into money by being settled, rather than pursued to an all or
nothing trial.
18. Sometimes it is simply unfair to visit upon the client the same burden of
proving the facts in the underlying (lost) claim as part of his claim against the
negligent professional. This may be because of the passage of time following the
occasion when, with competent advice, the underlying claim would have been
pursued. Sometimes it is because it is simply impracticable to prove, in proceedings
against the professional, facts which would ordinarily be provable in proceedings
against the third party who would be the defendant to the underlying claim.
Disclosure and production of relevant documents might be impossible, and the
obtaining of relevant evidence from witnesses might be impracticable. The same
departure from the practicable likelihood that the underlying claim would have been
settled rather than tried is inherent in any such process of trial within a trial.
19. But none of this means that the common law has simply abandoned the basic
requirement that a claim in negligence requires proof that loss has been caused by
the breach of duty, still less erected as a self-standing principle that it is always
wrong in a professional negligence claim to investigate, with all the adversarial
rigour of a trial, facts relevant to the claim that the client has been caused loss by the
breach, which it is fair that the client should have to prove.
20. For present purposes the courts have developed a clear and common-sense
dividing line between those matters which the client must prove, and those which
may better be assessed upon the basis of the evaluation of a lost chance. To the
extent (if at all) that the question whether the client would have been better off
depends upon what the client would have done upon receipt of competent advice,
this must be proved by the claimant upon the balance of probabilities. To the extent
that the supposed beneficial outcome depends upon what others would have done,
this depends upon a loss of chance evaluation.
21. This sensible, fair and practicable dividing line was laid down by the Court
of Appeal in Allied Maples Group Ltd v Simmons & Simmons (a firm) [1995] 1 WLR
1602, a decision which received surprisingly little attention in either of the courts
below (although, in fairness, the trial judge cited another authority to similar effect:
namely Brown v KMR Services [1995] 4 All ER 598). Allied Maples had made a
corporate takeover of assets and businesses within the Gillow group of companies,
during which it was negligently advised by the defendant solicitors in relation to
seeking protection against contingent liabilities of subsidiaries within the vendor’s
group. Allied Maples would have been better off, competently advised, if, but only
if: (a) it had raised the matter with Gillow and sought improved warranties and (b)
Gillow had responded by providing them. The Court of Appeal held that Allied
Maples had to prove point (a) on a balance of probabilities, but that point (b) should
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be assessed upon the basis of loss of the chance that Gillow would have responded
favourably. The Court of Appeal (Stuart-Smith, Hobhouse and Millett LJJ) were
unanimous in that statement of legal principle, although they differed as to the
outcome of its application to the facts. It was later approved by the House of Lords
in Gregg v Scott, at para 11 by Lord Nicholls and para 83 by Lord Hoffmann.
22. The Allied Maples case was about the loss, due to negligence, of the
opportunity to achieve a more favourable outcome in a negotiated transaction, rather
than about the loss of an opportunity to institute a legal claim. But there is no
sensible basis in principle for distinguishing between the two, and none was
suggested in argument. In both cases the taking of some positive step by the client,
once in receipt of competent advice, is an essential (although not necessarily
sufficient) element in the chain of causation. In both cases the client will be best
placed to assist the court with the question whether he would have taken the requisite
initiating steps. He will not by the defendant’s breach of duty be unfairly inhibited
in proving at a trial against his advisor that he would have done so, save perhaps
where there is an unusual combination of passage of time and scarcity of other
probative material, beyond his own unaided recollection.
23. Two important consequences flow from the application of this balance of
probabilities test to the question what the client would have done, in receipt of
competent advice. The first is that it gives rise to an all or nothing outcome, in the
usual way. If he proves upon the narrowest balance that he would have brought the
relevant claim within time, the client suffers no discount in the value of the claim
by reason of the substantial possibility that he might not have done so: see StuartSmith LJ in the Allied Maples case at [1995] 1 WLR 1602, 1610G-H. By the same
token, if he fails, however narrowly, to prove that he would have taken the requisite
initiating action, the client gets nothing on account of the less than 50% chance that
he might have done so.
24. The second consequence flows directly from the first. Since success or failure
in proving on the balance of probabilities that he would have taken the necessary
initiating step is of such fundamental importance to the client’s claim against his
advisor, there is no reason in principle or in justice why either party to the negligence
proceedings should be deprived of the full benefit of an adversarial trial of that issue.
If it can be fairly tried (which this principle assumes) then it must be properly tried.
And if (as in this case) the answer to the question whether the client would, properly
advised, have taken the requisite initiating step may be illuminated by reference to
facts which, if disputed, would have fallen to be investigated in the underlying claim,
this cannot of itself be a good reason not to subject them to the forensic rigour of a
trial. As will appear, this has an important bearing on the extent of the general rule
that, for the purpose of evaluating the loss of a chance, the court does not undertake
a trial within a trial.
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25. Applied to the present case, the principle that the client must prove on the
balance of probabilities that he would have taken any necessary steps required of
him to convert the receipt of competent advice into some financial (or financially
measurable) advantage to him means that Mr Perry needed to prove that, properly
advised by Raleys, he would have made a claim to a Services Award under the
Scheme within time. To this the judge added that it would have to have been an
honest claim. He made this addition upon the basis of a concession to that effect by
counsel on Mr Perry’s behalf, from which Mr Watt-Pringle QC for Mr Perry (who
did not appear at the trial) invited this court to permit him to resile, so that the
question whether the honesty of the claim was a requirement of Mr Perry’s cause of
action could be properly argued.
26. Having heard commendably concise argument on the point, I consider that
the concession was rightly and properly made. In Kitchen v Royal Air Force
Association [1958] 1 WLR 563 the plaintiff’s husband, a member of the RAF, was
electrocuted and killed in the kitchen of his house. His widow lost the opportunity
to bring a claim under the Fatal Accidents Act in time due to the negligence of the
defendant solicitors. In a leading judgment on the evaluation of the loss of a chance,
Lord Evershed MR said this, at p 575:
“I would add, as was conceded by Mr Neil Lawson, that in such
a case it is not enough for the plaintiff to say: ‘Though I had no
claim in law, still, I had a nuisance value which I could have so
utilised as to extract something from the other side and they
would have had to pay something to me in order to persuade
me to go away.’”
If nuisance value claims fall outside the category of lost claims for which damages
may be claimed in negligence against professional advisors, then so, a fortiori, must
dishonest claims.
27. That simple conclusion might be thought by many to be too obvious to need
further explanation, but it may be fortified in any of the following ways. First, a
client honestly describing his condition to his solicitor when considering whether to
make a personal injuries claim would not be advised to do so if the facts described
did not give rise to a claim. On the contrary, he would be advised not to waste his
own money and time upon the pursuit of pointless litigation. Secondly, the court
when appraising the assertion that the client would, if properly advised, have made
a personal injuries claim, may fairly presume that the client would only make honest
claims, and the client would not be permitted to rebut that presumption by a bald
assertion of his own propensity for dishonesty. Thirdly, the court simply has no
business rewarding dishonest claimants. The extent of dishonest claims for minor
personal injuries such as whiplash (which are difficult to disprove) in road traffic
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accident cases is already such a blot upon civil litigation that Parliament has
considered it necessary to intervene to limit that abuse.
28. Applied to the present case, Mr Perry could only have brought an honest
claim for a Services Award if he believed that:
a) He had, prior to developing VWF, carried out the six tasks, or some of
them, without assistance,
b) After developing VWF, he needed assistance in carrying out all or
some of those tasks, and
c) The reason for his need for that assistance was a lack of grip or manual
dexterity in his hands, brought on by VWF.
29. While the question whether a perceived lack of grip or manual dexterity on
his part was caused by VWF might be said to be a matter of expert medical opinion,
the presence or absence of all the other elements necessary for making an honest
claim to a Services Award fell squarely within Mr Perry’s own knowledge. He
would not, for example, need a doctor to tell him whether he needed assistance in
changing the sparking plugs on his car engine and, if he did, whether his difficulty
arose from lack of ability to grip or manipulate the requisite spanner, or rather from
chronic back pain.
30. Simple facts of that kind, plainly relevant to the question whether Mr Perry
could have brought an honest claim if competently advised, do not in themselves
fall within either of those categories of futurity or counter-factuality which have
traditionally inclined the court to adopt a loss of a chance type of assessment. They
are facts about Mr Perry’s actual physical condition at the relevant time (that is when
he could have made a claim for a Services Award under the Scheme if properly
advised), and about his habitual patterns in going about the six types of domestic
task. Furthermore, it is the common understanding of medical experts that VWF,
once developed, is a relatively stable condition. It gets neither worse nor better once
the miner ceases to use vibrating machinery. If one asks without reference to
authority whether there would be any unfairness subjecting his assertion that he
would have made a claim for a Services Award to forensic analysis including
questions about his then manual grip and dexterity and about the extent to which he
was assisted in the performance of the relevant domestic tasks, the answer would be
no. Nor would it be, on the face of it, unfair to subject his oral evidence about those
matters, and that of his alleged family assistants, to a searching comparison with
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other evidence about his own concerns about his medical condition at the relevant
time, to be derived from GP records.
31. The question remains however whether any of the authorities relied upon by
counsel for Mr Perry on this appeal, or by the Court of Appeal in its conclusion that
a forensic investigation of that kind at a trial was contrary to principle, really
establish any such proposition, where the facts being investigated are relevant to the
issue, to be proved by the claimant on the balance of probabilities, whether he would
have taken the essential step of bringing an honest claim, upon receipt of competent
advice. On analysis, they establish no such proposition. All they do show is that,
where the question for the court is one which turns upon the assessment of a lost
chance, rather than upon proof upon the balance of probabilities, it is generally
inappropriate to conduct a trial within a trial.
32. Taking the cases in chronological order, the earliest relevant decision is the
Kitchen case already mentioned. There, the plaintiff’s husband had been killed by
electrocution and the claim which the solicitor’s negligence disabled her from
making was against the electricity company. It was never suggested that, if properly
advised, she could not have made an honest claim. It was clearly more than a
nuisance value claim. The precise circumstances which led to the husband’s
electrocution were, as the Court of Appeal said, shrouded in mystery, and were not
within the plaintiff’s knowledge. Accordingly, the well-known advice of the Court
of Appeal, that in those circumstances the court should focus upon the chose in
action constituted by the lost claim and determine its value as best it can, without
necessarily conducting a trial within a trial, was not directed to the question whether
the plaintiff would have brought a claim. Nor indeed had it by then been established,
in the Allied Maples case, that such a question required proof on the balance of
33. Mount v Barker Austin [1998] PNLR 493 is the first of a series of cases in
which the Court of Appeal sought to extract from the Kitchen and Allied Maples
cases principles applicable to the determination of negligence claims against
solicitors who had through their negligence allowed their client’s pending claim to
be struck out, either for failure to comply in time with a procedural step, or more
generally for want of prosecution. They may all be distinguished from the present
case because, by the time when the negligent conduct occurred, the client already
had a pending claim which could be treated as something of potential value,
thereafter lost because of the solicitors’ negligence. By contrast with the Allied
Maples case and indeed this case, there was nothing which the client had to prove,
on the balance of probabilities, that he would have done, had his solicitors acted
competently, to bring such a pending claim into existence.
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34. Simon Brown LJ sought to lay out the relevant principles at pp 510-511, in
four propositions which have been frequently followed and applied. In summary,
they require the claimant only to prove that the lost claim had a real and substantial,
rather than merely negligible, prospect of success, following which the court was
obliged to conduct an evaluation of the prospect of success, rather than a trial within
a trial of the underlying claim. But those principles all fall on that side of the dividing
line established in the Allied Maples case in which the court is concerned to value
the loss of a chance, rather than to enquire whether the client has proved, on the
balance of probabilities, that he would have done something relevant to the existence
of a chain of causation between the solicitors’ negligence and the client’s loss.
35. The Court of Appeal, and counsel for Mr Perry in his submissions to this
court, placed Hanif v Middleweeks (supra) squarely in the forefront of their criticism
of the judge in conducting what they described as a trial within a trial. It was a
professional negligence action in which the client was the co-owner of a nightclub
which had been destroyed by fire. The insurers had issued proceedings for a
declaration of non-liability, on the ground (among others) that the fire had been
started deliberately by Mr Hanif’s co-owner. Mr Hanif counterclaimed for an
indemnity under the insurance policy, but his counterclaim was struck out for want
of prosecution because of the negligence of the defendant solicitors. The trial judge
had assessed the prospects of Mr Hanif resisting the insurers’ allegation of arson by
his co-owner at 25% and the Court of Appeal, applying both the Allied Maples and
Kitchen cases, held that he had been right to adopt a loss of chance approach, rather
than to decide, in a trial within a trial, whether or not the fire had been started
deliberately. A submission that, in the light of the 25% finding, the fire probably had
been deliberate, so that the claim should have been dismissed as being contrary to
public policy was rejected, not least because it had been neither pleaded nor argued
in the court below.
36. The Hanif case did not, therefore, involve any question about what the client
would have done had he obtained competent advice. He had already given
instructions for the making of the counterclaim, and it would have gone to trial but
for the solicitors’ negligence in allowing it to be struck out for want of prosecution.
There was, therefore, nothing which Mr Hanif had to prove, on the balance of
probabilities, that he would have done in order to have benefitted from a competent
discharge by the solicitors of their duty of care. The questions relevant to the lost
counterclaim therefore fell squarely within the category identified in the Allied
Maples case as calling for an evaluation of a lost chance, rather than proof upon the
balance of probabilities. Furthermore, there was no suggestion, at trial or in the
Court of Appeal, that Mr Hanif could not honestly have brought or pursued his
counterclaim, even though the judge found that he had only a 25% prospect of
resisting the allegation of arson by his co-owner. In sharp contrast with Mr Perry’s
knowledge of his own manual grip and dexterity, it was not suggested that Mr Hanif
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had personal knowledge of the facts relevant to the question whether the fire had
been started deliberately.
37. The case is therefore a conventional example of the correct application of the
dividing line established in the Allied Maples case between those matters to be
proved by the client on the balance of probabilities, and those to be addressed by
reference to the assessment of the value of the lost opportunity. But it does not begin
to establish some principle that it is always wrong for the court to try an issue
relevant to causation in a professional negligence case, merely because that same
issue would have fallen for determination in the trial of the underlying claim, lost
due to the solicitors’ negligence. The question whether any given issue should or
should not be tried in the negligence proceedings depends upon whether it is one
upon which the client must prove his case on the balance of probabilities, or only
one which should be subjected to the valuation of a lost chance. Treating the
question as determined by asking whether the same issue would fall to be tried in
the lost claim puts the cart before the horse.
38. Sharif v Garrett & Co [2001] EWCA Civ 1269; [2002] 1 WLR 3118 is
another case in which the negligence in question consisted of solicitors allowing a
pending claim to be struck out for want of prosecution. The underlying claim (which
had been struck out) was a negligence claim against insurance brokers, following
the destruction of the claimant’s business premises by fire. There was no suggestion
that it was a dishonest claim, or indeed a hopeless claim, although there was a wide
disagreement about its value. It was also a case in which the reason why the
underlying claim had been struck out for want of prosecution was that, because of
the inordinate delay, it could no longer be fairly tried. The criticism of the trial
judge’s approach which prevailed in the Court of Appeal was that he should not
have conducted a trial of issues which would have arisen in the underlying claim in
circumstances where the court had already concluded that no fair trial of that claim
was possible, as a result of the solicitors’ negligence in its prosecution. But the case
is, like the Hanif case, another conventional application of the dividing line
established in the Allied Maples case. The client had started his claim and needed to
prove nothing about what he would have done, on the balance of probabilities, in
order to have benefited from his solicitors’ careful conduct of the proceedings.
39. In Dixon v Clement Jones [2005] PNLR 6, the underlying claim was a
negligence action against accountants for failing to advise the claimant against what
turned out to be a disastrous transaction, which her solicitors allowed to be struck
out for failure to serve Particulars of Claim in time. The solicitors alleged that, even
if their client had received competent advice from the accountants, she would still
have entered into the disastrous transaction so that she would, applying principles
from the Allied Maples case, have failed to prove a necessary element in her case on
causation, on the balance of probabilities. The question for the Court of Appeal was
whether, in those circumstances, the client was obliged in the negligence claim
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against the solicitors also to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that aspect of her
case on causation in the underlying claim. In agreement with the trial judge, they
concluded that she did not, because causation issues in the underlying claim fell to
be evaluated on a loss of chance basis in the same way as all other issues in the
underlying claim, when considering the value of that claim which had been lost by
reason of the solicitors’ negligence.
40. It is unnecessary to express a concluded view about that analysis. A rigid
application of the Allied Maples test, namely whether the fact in issue was something
that the claimant rather than a third party would have done, might lead to the
opposite conclusion. But the client had already given instructions for the bringing
of the underlying claim, so there was nothing which she needed to prove that she
would have done, had the solicitors acted competently and served the Particulars of
Claim in time, in order to bring into existence a chose in action which the court could
value. Nor, unsurprisingly, was it suggested that the underlying claim had not itself
been honestly brought. It is sufficient to say that it does not address the question for
decision in the present case, namely whether the client must prove, on the balance
of probabilities that, competently advised, he would have brought an honest claim
so as to establish causation between the solicitors’ negligence and his alleged loss.
The Judge’s Approach to the Law
41. It was not, therefore, wrong in law or in principle for Judge Saffman to have
conducted a trial of the question whether Mr Perry would (or indeed could) have
brought an honest claim for a Services Award, if given competent advice by Raleys.
That was something which Mr Perry had to prove on the balance of probabilities,
and which Raleys were entitled to test with all the forensic tools available at an
ordinary civil trial, and by proof or challenge of alleged facts relevant to that
question, even if the same facts would have formed part of the matters in issue, either
at a trial of the underlying claim, or upon its adjudication or settlement pursuant to
the Scheme.
42. But the Court of Appeal’s criticism of the judge’s approach to the issue of
causation went further. They held that his reserved judgment disclosed that he
wrongly imposed upon Mr Perry the burden of proving not merely that he would,
properly advised, have brought an honest claim, but also a successful claim.
43. Viewed across the generality of claims that may never be pursued because of
a solicitor’s negligent advice, it may well be that the burden of proving that the claim
would have succeeded is higher than the burden of proving that it could or would
have been honestly made. That is because, in the ordinary case, success will depend
upon a raft of factual and legal matters, all of which are liable to be subjected to full
Page 15
adversarial examination at a trial, or at least to the disclosure and examination by an
opponent of the claimant’s documents before an attempt at settlement. By contrast,
claims for Services Awards under the Scheme by persons already in possession of a
medical opinion that they suffered from VWF, at a level sufficient to entitle them to
general damages, would not under the claims handling processes provided for by
the CHA be subject to any such adversarial procedures. As already described, the
claimant miner would only have to complete a questionnaire, identify his alleged
assistants, and have one or more of them subjected to a short, non-adversarial
interview on the telephone by a claims handler, and undergo medical examination
limited to the question of co-morbidity, before his claim would be assessed and, in
all probability, made the subject of an offer of an amount sufficient for the claim to
be treated as having been successful. As an experienced judge in this specialised
field, Judge Saffman may be assumed to have been well aware of this, and the
expression in his reserved judgment of the burden which Mr Perry needed to
surmount for the purposes of establishing causation needs to the read in that light,
in the context of a long and careful reserved judgment, considered as a whole.
44. There are four occasions in the judge’s judgment where he directly addressed
the causation hurdle facing Mr Perry. First, when dealing with the issues for trial, he
said, at para 15:
“In short therefore the issues for determination are;
a. Whether the claim is statute barred,
b. If not, whether the admitted breach of duty
caused or materially contributed to the claimant’s
alleged loss. In the context of this case did the breach
cause the claimant to settle his claim at an undervalue
because, on balance, if properly advised, and on the
assumption that he acted honestly, he would have made
a claim for a Services Award? …
c. Has the claimant lost something of value in the
sense that his prospects of success in a claim for a
Services Award were more than negligible?
d. If the claimant has lost a claim with more than a
negligible prospect of success what is a realistic
assessment of what the prospects of success were?
Page 16
e. What is an appropriate assessment of the likely
value of the claim having taken account of the prospects
of success?”
Then, at para 88, under the heading “Causation”: he continued:
“The onus is on the claimant to establish causation on the
balance of probabilities. The claimant therefore must establish
on balance that he would have acted differently if properly
advised and a lack of opportunity to do so has caused him loss.
In other words the claimant must establish that the breach of
duty actually caused him loss.”
Under the heading “Other aspects of Causation” he continued at para 114:
“I therefore now turn to the issue of whether the breach caused
the claimant to settle his claim at an undervalue because, on
balance, if properly advised and on the assumption that he was
acting honestly he would have acted differently and made a
successful claim for a Services Award.”
45. At para 119 the judge said:
“That is a question of credibility. Am I satisfied that the
claimant originally undertook the services but could no longer
do so without assistance? As Mr Quiney put it, has the claimant
succeeded in persuading the court that he actually suffered
sufficient disability that he could honestly say ‘I cannot carry
out these services?’”
46. Finally, he expressed his conclusion at para 133, as follows:
“I am not satisfied that the evidence of Mrs Perry or Scott Perry
is sufficiently cogent to dissuade me from my conclusion that
the claimant has not established that he honestly met the factual
matrix by reason of his VWF either in respect of what tasks he
used to do and those which he could not do without assistance
at the time of settlement of his original claim. Indeed I go
further, I am satisfied that in so far as the burden is on the
Page 17
defendant to establish its assertion that the claimant did not
meet the matrix, it has discharged that burden.”
The judge was using the phrase “the factual matrix” in the way described above,
namely having a sufficient disability in his hands, caused by VWF, that he could no
longer carry out, without assistance, tasks that he had previously carried out on his
47. While it is true that, at para 114, the judge did use language which, read on
its own, might appear to suggest that he imposed upon Mr Perry the additional
burden, beyond proving that he would have made an honest claim, that it would have
been successful, his analysis of causation, derived from all the passages quoted
above, taken together, and in the context of the judgment as a whole, makes it clear
that he was not thereby imposing some additional burden upon Mr Perry, beyond
proof, on the balance of probabilities, that he would have brought an honest claim.
His reference to a “successful” claim may have been no more than shorthand for his
earlier reference to the requirement upon Mr Perry to show that his claim had a more
than negligible prospect of success.
48. Accordingly, and contrary to the view of the Court of Appeal, the judge’s
determination of the case was not vitiated by any error of law.
The Judge’s Determination of the Facts
49. It is necessary therefore also to address the question whether the Court of
Appeal was right to conclude that, quite separately from supposed errors of law, the
judge went sufficiently wrong in his determination of the facts to enable an appellate
court to intervene. The Court of Appeal expressed its positive conclusion on that
issue under two headings, at para 26, namely:
“iii) he demonstrably failed to consider, or misunderstood,
relevant evidence, and
iv) his decision (that Mr Perry could not honestly have
claimed in 1999 and thereafter that he was unable to perform
the relevant tasks without assistance) cannot reasonably be
explained or justified.”
Those are strong conclusions about a fact-finding exercise at trial by an experienced
judge, but the Court of Appeal made them after reminding themselves of the very
Page 18
real constraints facing an appellate court when invited to overturn a judge’s findings
of fact at trial. For that purpose they referred to Grizzly Business Ltd v Stena Drilling
Ltd [2017] EWCA Civ 94, Henderson v Foxworth Investments Ltd [2014] UKSC
41; [2014] 1 WLR 2600 and McGraddie v McGraddie [2013] UKSC 58; [2013] 1
WLR 2477. In the Henderson case the Supreme Court had said, at para 62:
“It does not matter, with whatever degree of certainty, that the
appellate court considers that it would have reached a different
conclusion. What matters is whether the decision under appeal
is one that no reasonable judge could have reached.”
50. In the McGraddie case Lord Reed said this, at paras 3-4:
“3. The reasons justifying that approach are not limited to the
fact, emphasised in Clarke’s case and Thomas v Thomas, that the
trial judge is in a privileged position to assess the credibility of
witnesses’ evidence. Other relevant considerations were
explained by the United States Supreme Court in Anderson v
City of Bessemer (1985) 470 US 564 (1985), 574-575:
‘The rationale for deference to the original finder of fact
is not limited to the superiority of the trial judge’s
position to make determinations of credibility. The trial
judge’s major role is the determination of fact, and with
experience in fulfilling that role comes expertise.
Duplication of the trial judge’s efforts in the court of
appeals would very likely contribute only negligibly to
the accuracy of fact determination at a huge cost in
diversion of judicial resources. In addition, the parties to
a case on appeal have already been forced to concentrate
their energies and resources on persuading the trial
judge that their account of the facts is the correct one:
requiring them to persuade three more judges at the
appellate level is requiring too much. As the court has
stated in a different context, the trial on the merits
should be ‘the ‘main event’ … rather than a ‘try out on
the road’.’ … For these reasons, review of factual
findings under the clearly erroneous standard – with its
deference to the trier of fact – is the rule, not the
Page 19
Similar observations were made by Lord Wilson in In re B (a Child) (Care
Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33; [2013] 1 WLR 1911, para
“4. Furthermore, as was stated in observations adopted by
the majority of the Canadian Supreme Court in Housen v
Nikolaisen [2002] 2 SCR 235, para 14:
‘The trial judge has sat through the entire case and his
ultimate judgment reflects this total familiarity with the
evidence. The insight gained by the trial judge who has
lived with the case for several days, weeks or even
months may be far deeper than that of the Court of
Appeal whose view of the case is much more limited
and narrow, often being shaped and distorted by the
various orders or rulings being challenged.’”
51. The Court of Appeal, at para 24, also reminded themselves of the following
dicta of Lewison LJ in Fage UK Ltd v Chobani UK Ltd [2014] EWCA Civ 5:
“(iv) In making his decisions the trial judge will have regard
to the whole of the sea of evidence presented to him, whereas
an appellate court will only be island hopping.
(v) The atmosphere of the courtroom cannot, in any event,
be recreated by reference to documents (including transcripts
of evidence).
(vi) Thus even if it were possible to duplicate the role of the
trial judge, it cannot in practice be done.”
52. The question in the present case is not whether the Court of Appeal misstated
those constraints. They may be summarised as requiring a conclusion either that
there was no evidence to support a challenged finding of fact, or that the trial judge’s
finding was one that no reasonable judge could have reached. Rather, the question
is whether the Court of Appeal were correct in concluding, as they did, that there
were errors in the judge’s factual determination which satisfied those very stringent
requirements. For that purpose it is necessary to address each of the Court of
Appeal’s criticisms in turn, but with the caveat that it is not possible entirely to
disentangle some of them from what, for reasons already given, was the Court of
Page 20
Appeal’s incorrect approach to the burden imposed by the common law upon Mr
Perry to prove causation.
53. The Court of Appeal’s first conclusion was that the judge had failed to
appreciate that, on the question whether Mr Perry could have made an honest claim
for a Services Award, the burden of proof in relation to any question of dishonesty
lay squarely upon Raleys. More importantly, the Court of Appeal concluded that it
had not been fairly put to Mr Perry in cross-examination at trial that, for him to have
instructed Raleys to pursue a claim for a Services Award would have involved
dishonesty on his part, in suggesting that he suffered from the requisite underlying
manual disability. As to that, for the reasons already given, the burden lay on Mr
Perry to prove that he would have made an honest claim. Since his written evidence
was that he would indeed have made a claim for a Services Award, it was incumbent
upon counsel for Raleys to bring home to Mr Perry in cross-examination and by any
other relevant means that his honesty in making that assertion was being challenged,
and to do so in a way which took properly into account Mr Perry’s relative lack of
54. The judge reminded himself at some length of the need to take account of Mr
Perry’s relatively unsophisticated background, at paras 16-18 and 136 of his
judgment. He satisfied himself, at paras 74-75, that Mr Perry and his advisors were
in no doubt that Raleys were alleging that he was “promoting a dishonest claim”. At
para 133 the judge made it clear that his conclusion that, in asserting that he suffered
from the requisite manual disability in carrying out the relevant tasks unaided, Mr
Perry was not telling the truth was one which he reached regardless of the incidence
of a burden of proof.
55. The question whether it had been sufficiently brought home to Mr Perry, by
cross-examination or otherwise, that the court was being invited to conclude that he
was lying in his evidence about his inability to carry out the domestic tasks without
assistance was pre-eminently a matter for the trial judge, and it is clear, as noted
above, that he concluded, after hearing submissions from counsel on the point, that
it had been. The question for an appellate court is therefore whether there was
material upon which the judge could reasonably reached that affirmative conclusion.
Having read those parts of the cross-examination to which this court was directed
by counsel, there clearly was such material. It consisted, in the main, of counsel for
Raleys putting in considerable detail to Mr Perry aspects of his documented medical
history, and evidence (including photographic evidence) of fishing and gardening
activities after his retirement as a miner which were, as the judge held, wholly
inconsistent with his evidence about his disability in carrying out the relevant tasks.
The judge was entitled to conclude that this sufficiently brought home to Mr Perry
that he was being accused of lying about it. The fact that an appellate judge might,
if trying the case at first instance, have preferred or required the matter to be put to
Mr Perry differently or more directly, is, with respect, neither here nor there.
Page 21
56. Linked to this criticism was the conclusion, at para 46 of the judgment of
Gloster LJ, that “the judge placed far too much weight on the detail of the inadequate
answers which were given by the appellant in this respect …”. But again, the weight
to be given to evidential material in forming a conclusion whether Mr Perry’s
evidence lacked all credibility (as the judge found) was a matter for the trial judge.
57. The second and main criticism by the Court of Appeal was that the judge had
disregarded, without giving proper reasons, the evidence, broadly supportive of Mr
Perry’s case, from Professor Kester and from the single joint expert Mr Tennant, in
particular because the latter was not called to be cross-examined. Professor Kester’s
task, under the Scheme, was to advise whether, and with what degree of severity,
Mr Perry suffered from VWF. He noted that Mr Perry reported a loss of manual
dexterity and clumsiness of an intermittent nature, but his detailed examination of
Mr Perry was directed to the presence or absence of the VWF in his hands rather
than to their grip or dexterity.
58. By contrast, Mr Tennant’s opinion was directed towards Mr Perry’s ability
to carry out the relevant domestic tasks unaided. Again however, much of his
reasoning was based upon information provided to him by Mr Perry during
interview, in particular in relation to each of the six relevant tasks, although Mr
Tennant appears to have carried out a grip strength test and some simple tests of
manual dexterity.
59. The judge did, at paras 116-118 and 122-123 of his judgment, remind himself
of the opinions of Professor Kester and Mr Tennant, of their findings as to the
severity of Mr Perry’s VWF, of the presumption thereby arising in favour of a
Services Award, and accepted that Mr Perry suffered from VWF “to a high degree”.
At para 118, he said:
“I acknowledge that the staging of two doctors supports the
view that he has a significant loss of function, but I repeat that
the question is whether the claimant has established that in
reality any loss of function manifested itself in an inability to
carry out the tasks.”
This was what, in the passage already quoted above, the judge described as “a
question of credibility”.
60. The trial judge was not merely entitled but obliged to weigh in the evidential
balance his perception that Mr Perry was lying about his ability to perform, unaided,
the relevant tasks against the opinion, in particular of Mr Tennant, that he suffered
Page 22
from shortcomings in manual dexterity which made it likely that he suffered from
such a disability. Corroborative expert evidence not infrequently transforms
testimony which on its own appears most unlikely into something credible. The
judge’s conclusion that Mr Tennant’s opinion did not prevail over Mr Perry’s
thoroughgoing lack of credibility cannot be described as either lacking in reasoning
or trespassing beyond the range of reasonable conclusions available to a trial judge.
While it might have been better if Mr Tennant had been called for crossexamination, the judge was not obliged to prefer the expert’s opinion, based as it
was to a significant extent upon what Mr Perry had told him, to that which the judge
was entitled to form, on the basis of the evidence as a whole, about whether Mr Perry
was telling the truth about his supposed disability. In the end, the Court of Appeal’s
criticism amounted to a supposed failure to give sufficient weight to the medical
evidence: see per Gloster LJ at para 52. But questions as to the weight of competing
evidence are pre-eminently a matter for the trial judge.
61. The next criticism was that the judge had misunderstood, or failed to apply,
a principle fundamental to the Scheme, namely that a claimant did not have to be
disabled entirely from carrying out a task in order to be entitled to a Services Award:
see per Gloster LJ at para 54. She said that “the impression given by the judge was
that he wrongly considered that unless Mr Perry could not carry out any aspects of
a task without assistance, he was not entitled to claim in respect of that task”.
62. No such error appears from perusal of the judge’s careful judgment. In
particular, at para 132, he acknowledged that “inability or reduced ability to carry
out the services tasks” would be sufficient to support a claim to a Services Award.
63. The final criticism made by the Court of Appeal was that the judge “could
not rationally have reached the conclusion that Mr Perry, his wife and two sons had
all given false evidence”: see per Gloster LJ at para 55. It is a very strong thing for
an appellate court to say, from a review of the paper records of a trial , that the trial
judge was irrational in concluding that witnesses were not telling the truth, all the
more so when the trial judge gives detailed reasons for that conclusion in a lengthy
reserved judgment, and those reasons do not disclose any failure by him to consider
relevant materials, or any disabling failure properly to understand them. The
credibility (including honesty) of oral testimony is, of all things, a matter for the trial
64. It is unnecessary to address in detail the reasons given by Gloster LJ for that
finding of irrationality against the judge. It is sufficient to say that, while they
constitute persuasive and forcefully expressed views about why she and her
colleagues in the Court of Appeal, faced with the same materials, would have come
to a different conclusion, they do not, separately or in conjunction, support a
conclusion of irrationality as the only explanation for the judge’s contrary view. As
Page 23
the judge said, the question whether Mr Perry needed assistance in the performance
of the relevant tasks following his retirement from mining was pre-eminently a
matter to be proved, or not proved, by his oral evidence, with such support as he
could muster from the oral evidence of his wife and two sons. It was, as the judge
put it, a question of credibility. While there undoubtedly are cases where surviving
documents point so clearly to the correct answer to issues of fact that the oral
testimony of relevant witnesses is of subordinate importance, this is not one of them.
Furthermore the surviving documents were, as was demonstrated during cross
examination, generally hostile to Mr Perry’s case.
65. Mr Watt-Pringle sought to support the Court of Appeal’s criticisms of the
judge’s findings with specific submissions about aspects of the detail. They did not,
separately or together, amount to a case sufficient to support either a conclusion that
there was no evidence to support the judge’s adverse findings about credibility or a
conclusion that no reasonable judge could have decided as he did. In particular Mr
Watt-Pringle pointed to the relative brevity of the cross-examination of Mr Perry’s
wife and two sons, being, he submitted, insufficient to justify the conclusion that
any of them was lying. But it is impossible to tell, without having been present at
the trial, whether a short or a long cross-examination of a witness was necessary in
order to undermine his or her credibility.
66. Mr Watt-Pringle also pointed to the fact that the central thrust of Raleys’ case
at trial was not so much that Mr Perry suffered from no disability in performing the
relevant tasks unaided, (although that was part of Raleys’ case) but rather that his
back problem was the only significant cause of such disability as in fact affected
him. He pointed to the fact that, in the concluding part of his judgment, the judge
rejected Raleys’ case that Mr Perry’s back problems were of that degree of
significance, preferring in that respect the evidence to the contrary of Mr Tennant.
But he did so expressly on the conditional basis that he might be wrong in his
primary conclusion that Mr Perry was lying about having any relevant inability to
perform those tasks unaided: see para 137 of his judgment.
67. In conclusion therefore, none of the grounds upon which the Court of Appeal
considered that this was one of those rare cases where it was appropriate to reverse
the trial judge’s findings on issues of fact is established, to the requisite high degree.
Accordingly, this appeal should be allowed, and the judge’s order restored.