The High Court case of Fortimat Properties SA v Pinsent Masons LLP  EWHC 2411 (Comm) reveals that the international firm Pinsent Masons is facing a claim that it provided negligent advice regarding a real estate development project for Fortimat Properties.
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Background of the Case
The claimant, a Luxembourg-based corporation, asserts that Pinsent Masons was negligent in failing to recognise that certain requirements for the project had not been met and that money should not have been granted. The firm denies these allegations.
The claimant argues that Pinsent Masons improperly staffed the transaction and that it was actually handled by individuals who were either too junior or too unskilled to provide sound advice. The claimant asserts in related actions that funds contributed to the project were fraudulently misappropriated through a conspiracy involving other investors.
The judge Mr. Justice Jacobs stated that the court may be required to access privileged documents during any trial that proceeds in the lawsuit for professional negligence against the firm Pinsent Masons.
Mr. Justice Jacobs emphasised in his decision that the legal privilege issue was unrelated to the merits of either side’s case. He stated that crucial papers relied upon by both parties would essentially become public knowledge if the case went to trial. Any effort by any party to claim that some documents should remain confidential was “quite impossible to be sustained at this point,” he added.
A small number of documents that the judge deemed to be privileged were produced for the court. In a professional negligence action, he agreed with the claimant’s representative that it would be “quite astonishing indeed” if the matter could be settled without considering the documents exchanged between the client and the solicitor.
Regardless of the current situation regarding privilege, he said, the claimant who filed these procedures “should recognise that the papers which form the basis of the professional negligence claim will, if the case continues, enter the public domain in any scenario.”
Whether Pinsent Masons Adequately Staffed this Matter
‘When one looks at the pleadings in this case, there is an issue which is pled and which is in play as to whether or not Pinsent Masons adequately staffed this particular task,’ he continued, in reference to the question of whether the court can view legal bills provided to the client. That will probably require taking into account Pinsent Masons’ bills in addition to looking at their time sheets to see who was doing what.
Statement by Pinsent Masons
‘As the matter is the subject of legal proceedings it would be improper for us to comment further, safe to say that the firm will be vigorously defending the proceedings and deems them to be misconceived,’ said a Pinsent Masons spokesperson.
What does the case highlight?
The case highlights the court’s power to obtain privileged or confidential information from the parties involved to impart justice. It seems that the defendants would not be able to hide behind the privilege, and not present the documents or stop it from entering the public domain. It is also important to note that this privilege exists to protect the client, and in this case it is the client who has brought the claim for negligence.
Download the Judgement
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