“Very measured, with a huge wealth of knowledge and case law at his fingertips.” “He is one of the most user-friendly barristers I have dealt with, and would be at the top of my list for a measured, strategic opinion on a technical professional negligence case” – Chambers & Partners, 2019
‘He has a brilliant legal mind and looks at cases upside-down and back-to-front to absolutely get to grips with the issues.’ – Legal 500
The successful conduct or defence of professional liability litigation requires clear analysis of underlying legal issues and a firm grasp of forensic practicalities. In his advice Charles aims always to cover both aspects thoroughly. He seeks also to ensure that his clients’ cases are presented in a manner that is both articulate and forceful.
Charles has specialised in professional liability cases since he first began to practise at the Bar in 1993 and has seen more than one full revolution of the business cycle (with all its attendant economic side-effects). A large part of his practice is devoted in particular to claims of all kinds against lawyers, auditing and tax-related claims against accountants, negligent investment and mis-selling claims against financial services professionals and over-valuation claims against surveyors.
Charles (led by Patrick Lawrence QC) was instructed on behalf of the respondents to the appeal to the Supreme Court in Jones v Kaney (relating to the immunity of expert witnesses).
Charles also has recent experience, in particular, of claims relating to the tax treatment of a number of film finance schemes (eg Imagine, Charity Shell, Eclipse, and Scion), and has been instructed to represent both tax advisors and accountants defending such claims.
Accountants, Auditors & Actuaries
Charles is regularly instructed to act for both claimants and defendants in accountant’s negligence cases concerning liability for, among other things, audit services and tax advice. He was editor of the chapter on accountants in Jackson & Powell’s Professional Liability Precedents (Sweet & Maxwell, loose-leaf).
He was instructed on behalf of the liquidators of BCCI in the audit litigation against Price Waterhouse and Ernst & Whinney (as they then were), at that time the largest accountant’s negligence claim ever to have been brought. The litigation eventually settled, following a successful appeal against an order striking out large parts of the claim: BCCI (Overseas) Ltd (in liquidation) v Price Waterhouse  Lloyd’s Law Rep (Banking) 85.
Other more recent cases in which he has been instructed include:
- a claim against a firm of accountants in respect of their alleged failure to provide an adequate expert’s report (Baker Tilly v Makar  EWHC 1715 (QB));
- a claim by a further education institution against its auditors for failing to detect substantial defalcations by a trusted member of staff over a lengthy period of time;
- a claim by a commercial property investment company against its accountants for failing to advise it of its right to claim capital allowances in respect of its expenditure (amounting to several million pounds) on plant and machinery;
- a claim against a firm of accountants arising out of fraudulent investment advice given by one of its partners;
- the defence by a firm of accountants of a claim alleging negligence in relation to a film finance tax scheme;
- the defence by a firm of accountants of an action alleging negligent advice relating to CGT liabilities arising on the disposal of the majority shareholding in a restaurant chain;
- the defence by a firm of accountants of an action alleging negligent conduct resulting in the avoidance of business interruption insurance cover;
- the defence by a firm of accountants of an action alleging negligence advice in relation to the winding-up of a partnership;
- a claim against a firm of accountants by beneficiaries under a will alleging negligence in the course of their retainer by the deceased;
- the defence by a firm of accountants of an action alleging negligent reporting under the Solicitors’ Account Rules, resulting in thefts from the office and client accounts of a firm of solicitors;
- the defence by a firm of accountants of a claim alleging negligent tax in relation to a company’s PAYE and NIC liabilities;
- the defence by an insolvency practitioner of negligent conduct of the claimants’ IVAs;
- the defence by a liquidator of a claim made by the directors of an insolvent company.
Claims against construction professionals require (more than most) a willingness to grapple with factual detail in a legal context. Charles’s belief is that a clear focus on the crucial issues can reliably emerge only from a proper mastery of the facts. Cases in which he has been instructed include:
- a claim against engineers alleging negligence in the design and supervision of a scheme to underpin residential property;
- the defence by engineers of an action alleging the negligent design of electronic equipment;
- the defence by quantity surveyors of an action alleging a negligent failure to identify asbestos in a survey of commercial premises;
- the defence by architects of an action alleging negligent design of a factory roof;
- the defence by project managers of an action alleging negligent administration of a building contract relating to brewery premises;
- a claim against architects alleging the negligent design/supervision of the construction of a block of flats;
- the defence by architects of a claim alleging negligent supervision of a major office refurbishment;
- the defence by a firm of architects of a claim alleging negligent supervision of a domestic building contract.
Financial Services Professionals
Claims against financial services professionals require not only a firm grasp of common law principles, but also close attention to the regulatory context (which may itself require a quasi-archaeological exploration of the relevant legislative history). Charles is numerate and seeks always to turn his familiarity with technical detail to his clients’ advantage. Cases in which he has recently been instructed include:
- claims by private investors in respect of the mis-selling of derivative instruments;
- the defence of a claim by individuals alleging negligent pensions advice (Williams v Lishman Sidwell Campbell & Price  PNLR 25);
- the defence of a claim alleging negligent advice in relation to a collective investment scheme;
- the defence by a Channel Islands company administrator of a claim by liquidators alleging negligent and/or improper conduct resulting in the loss of several million pounds;
- a claim by investors against fund managers alleging negligent investment advice;
- the defence by a life assurance company of multi-party litigation brought by numerous overseas investors.
Insurance Brokers & Agents
Claims against insurance intermediaries require not only an understanding of the role of insurance professionals, but also familiarity with the large underlying body of discrete case-law relating to insurance contracts. Charles enjoys applying principles of insurance law in the professional negligence context and has acted both for and against insurance brokers and agents.
Claims in which he has been instructed include:
- the defence by a firm of placing brokers of a contribution claim brought by producing brokers in the context of the alleged mis-selling of PPI;
- the defence by insurance intermediaries of a third party claim by insurance brokers arising from inadequate reinsurance cover;
- a claim against insurance brokers alleging negligence resulting in the avoidance of cover against fire;
- the defence by a financial services company of an action alleging the negligent recommendation of inappropriate loan protection policies;
- the defence by insurance brokers of an action alleging negligence resulting in the under-insurance of residential property.
Charles has very extensive experience of all kinds of claims against lawyers (both solicitors and barristers), in cases involving a wide range of legal activities. As the co-author, with the late Lord Toulson, of Confidentiality (Sweet & Maxwell, 3rd edition, 2012), he has a particular interest in the issues of privilege and confidentiality which frequently crop up in the course of a lawyer’s practice. Apart from claims arising in the commercial sphere, he also relishes lost litigation claims and is familiar with the technicalities of land law and beneficial ownership which underlie many conveyancing negligence claims. He is regularly instructed by major insurers of solicitors and the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund.
Cases in which he has been instructed over the past ten years include:
- the defence by a firm of solicitors of multiple claims brought by buy-to-let purchasers (Lewis v Ward Hadaway  4 WLR 6);
- the defence by a firm of solicitors of an application for an interim restraining injunction on grounds of alleged legal professional privilege (Hallows v Wilson Barca LLP  EWHC 3188 (Ch));
- a claim for breach of fiduciary duty and negligence by solicitors retained in the sale of a construction company (Turpin v Brabners Chaffe Street LLP (25/9/2014; Ch; Bristol District Registry));
- the defence by a firm of solicitors of a claim alleging negligent drafting of a property development agreement (Mallon v Halliwells  EWCA Civ 1212);
- claims for delivery up of privileged and/or confidential documentation from a solicitor’s file (Mortgage Express v Sawali  PNLR 11 and  2 Costs LR 288);
- the defence by a firm of solicitors of claims for breach of undertakings given in the course of conveyancing transactions (Clark v Lucas Solicitors LLP  PNLR 2);
- the defence by a firm of solicitors of an application for a wasted costs order based on the alleged breach of obligations of disclosure (CMCS Common Market Commercial Services AVV v Taylor  PNLR 17);
- the defence by a firm of solicitors of an application for a wasted costs order in proceedings in the Court of Protection (Sharma v Hunters  PNLR 6);
- an illegality defence to a claim against a commercial solicitor (Nayyar v Denton Wilde Sapte  PNLR 15);
- litigation relating to unsuccessful litigation funding schemes (including “the TAG Litigation”, “the CLE Litigation” and “the Impact Litigation”);
- advisory work for solicitors’ firms in relation to data subject access requests and other aspects of the data protection regime.
Charles acquired a close familiarity with claims against surveyors in the last round of lenders’ litigation at the turn of the century. He has been struck by the faithfulness with which history has repeated itself, but is also interested in the various ways in which the claims which are presently being made (and the accompanying allegations of contributory negligence against lenders) differ from those which were advanced in the past. He has acted both for and against surveyors and valuers in both commercial and domestic contexts, including:
- a multi-million pound claim by a lending bank in relation to the alleged over-valuation of hotel premises which were subject to a management agreement;
- the defence by a firm of surveyors of a multi-million pound claim brought by property investors in respect of an allegedly over-valued office building;
- the defence by a firm of surveyors of a claim brought by a residential property owner (claim dismissed summarily on the basis that no relevant duty owed to the claimant – National Westminster Bank plc v Lloyd (QBD) LTL 10/2/2009);
- the defence by a firm of surveyors of a claim by a bank in respect of the alleged over-valuation of specialist industrial premises;
- the defence by a firm of surveyors of a claim by non-status lenders alleging negligent overvaluation of mixed commercial and residential property;
- the defence by a firm of surveyors of a claim by property owners alleging negligent advice in relation to damage caused by tree roots;
- a claim against a firm of surveyors and land agents alleging negligent advice in relation to a scheme of commercial development.