Midland Bank Trust Co Ltd v Hett Stubbs and Kemp (a firm): ChD 1978

A solicitor had failed to register an option as a land charge over property. The court was asked what steps should have been taken by a solicitor in the conduct of a claim: ‘Mr Harman [leading counsel for the plaintiff] sought to rely upon the fact that Mr Stubbs was Geoffrey’s solicitor under some sort of general retainer imposing a duty to consider all aspects of his interest generally whenever he was consulted, but that cannot be. There is no such thing as a general retainer in that sense. The expression ‘my solicitor’ is as meaningless as the expression ‘my tailor’ or ‘my bookmaker’ in establishing any general duty apart from that arising out of a particular matter in which his services are retained. The extent of his duties depends upon the terms and limits of that retainer and any duty of care to be implied must be related to what he is instructed to do.
While No doubt the duties owed by a solicitor to his client are high in the sense that he holds himself out as practising a highly skilled and exacting profession. But I think that the court must beware of imposing upon solicitors – or upon professional men in other spheres – duties which go beyond the scope of what they are requested and undertake to do. It may be that a particularly meticulous and conscientious practitioner would, in his client’s general interest, take it upon himself to pursue a line of enquiry beyond the strict limits comprehended by his instructions. But that is not the test. The test is what the reasonably competent practitioner would do having regard to the standards normally adopted in his profession, and cases . . demonstrate that the duty is directly related to the confines of the retainer.’ The solicitors accepted ‘a common law duty not to injure their client by failing to do what they had undertaken to do and which, at their invitation, he relied on them to do.’
References: [1979] Ch 384, [1978] 3 All ER 571, [1978] 3 WLR 167, [1955-95] PNLR 95
Judges: Oliver J
Jurisdiction: England and Wales
This case cites:

  • Cited – Candler v Crane Christmas and Co CA 15-Dec-1950 ([1951] 2 KB 164, [1951] 1 All ER 426, 36 Digest (Rep 1) 17, [1951] 1 TLR 371)
    Though the accounts of the company in which the plaintiff had invested had been carelessly prepared and gave a wholly misleading picture of the state of the company, the plaintiff could not recover damages. A false statement, carelessly, as . .
  • Cited – Hedley Byrne and Co Ltd v Heller and Partners Ltd HL 28-May-1963 ([1964] AC 465, [1963] 2 All ER 575, , , [1963] UKHL 4, [1963] 1 Lloyds Rep 485, [1963] 3 WLR 101, )
    The appellants were advertising agents. They were liable themselves for advertising space taken for a client, and had sought a financial reference from the defendant bankers to the client. The reference was negligent, but the bankers denied any . .
  • Cited – Griffiths v Evans CA 1953 ([1953] 2 All ER 1364, [1953] 1 WLR 1424)
    The parties disputed the terms on which the solicitor had been engaged, and in particular as to the scope of the duty undertaken by and entrusted to the solicitor as regards advising the client.
    Held: Where there is a dispute between a . .

This case is cited by:

  • Cited – Johnson v Gore Wood and Co (a Firm) CA 12-Nov-1998 (, [1998] EWCA Civ 1763, [1999] BCC 474)
    The claimant had previously issued a claim against the defendant solicitors through his company. He now sought to pursue a claim in his own name. It was resisted as an abuse of process, and on the basis that no personal duty of care was owed to the . .
  • Cited – Brinn and Another v Russell Jones and Walker (A Firm) QBD 12-Dec-2002 (, [2002] EWHC 2727 (QB))
    Police officers had instructed their solicitor to sue in defamation. By their negligence the chance of a claim was lost. They instructed a second firm of solicitors to claim against the first, but this firm also were negligent. The damages fell to . .
  • Cited – Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v Lennon CA 20-Feb-2004 (, [2004] EWCA Civ 130, Times 25-Feb-04, Gazette 18-Mar-04, [2004] 2 All ER 266)
    The claimant police officer considered being transferred to Northern Ireland. He asked and was incorrectly told that his housing allowance would not be affected by taking time off work.
    Held: The break between employments had affected his . .
  • Cited – Worby, Worby and Worby v Rosser CA 28-May-1999 (Times 09-Jun-99, Gazette 16-Jun-99, , [1999] EWCA Civ 1520, [2000] PNLR 140)
    Three potential beneficiaries sought payment from a solicitor of the costs of resisting the grant of probate to a will, saying that he had owed them a duty of care to ensure that the testator did not execute a later will in circumstances in which he . .
  • Cited – John Mowlem Construction Plc v Neil F Jones and Co CA 1-Jul-2004 (, [2004] EWCA Civ 768, Times 27-Aug-04, (2005) 83 BMLR 175)
    The defendant’s solicitors were alleged to have failed to advise their clients when an issue was raised, to notify their professional negligence insurers, with the result that the insurers had been able to repudiate liability.
    Held: In the . .
  • Cited – Precis (521) Plc v William M Mercer Ltd CA 15-Feb-2005 (, [2005] EWCA Civ 114, Times 24-Feb-05, [2005] PNLR 511)
    Purchasers of a company sought to claim in negligence against the respondent actuaries in respect of a valuation of the company’s pension funds.
    Held: There was a paucity of authority as to when a duty of care was assumed. The words used and . .
  • Cited – Ratiu, Karmel, Regent House Properties Ltd v Conway CA 22-Nov-2005 (, [2005] EWCA Civ 1302, Times 29-Nov-05, [2006] 1 All ER 571)
    The claimant sought damages for defamation. The defendant through their company had accused him acting in such a way as to allow a conflict of interest to arise. They said that he had been invited to act on a proposed purchase but had used the . .
  • Cited – The Football League Ltd v Edge Ellison (A Firm) ChD 23-Jun-2006 (, [2006] EWHC 1462 (Ch))
    The claimants operated football leagues, and asked the defendant solicitors to act in negotiating the sale of television rights to ONdigital. The broadcasts went ahead, but no guarantees were taken for the contract. The claimants alleged . .
  • Cited – Glyn v McGarel-Groves CA 14-Jul-2006 (, [2006] EWCA Civ 998, Times 22-Aug-06)
    The claimant had employed a French veterinary surgeon to treat her horse ‘Anna’. She engaged the defendant English veterinary surgeon to attend the treament and observe. The horse died at the principal negligence of the French vet. The English vet . .
  • Cited – Hicks v Russell Jones and Walker (A Firm) ChD 27-Apr-2007 (, [2007] EWHC 940 (Ch))
    The claimants sought to pursue an action in negligence against their solicitors saying that they had conducted another case negligently, and thereby they had lost their chance in the action, on the basis that the hotel at the centre of the action . .
  • Cited – Associated Newspapers Ltd, Regina (on The Application of) v Rt Hon Lord Justice Leveson Admn 20-Jan-2012 (, [2012] EWHC 57 (Admin))
    The defendant was conducting a public enquiry into the culture, ethics and practices of national newspapers. The claimant and others objected to the admission of anonymous evidence from journalists afraid of career blight. The claimants complained . .
  • Approved – Bown v Gould and Swayne CA 1996 ([1996] 1 PNLR 130)
    Millett LJ commented that if a judge needed assistance with regard to conveyancing practice the proper way was to cite the relevant textbooks. . .
  • Cited – Kandola v Mirza Solicitors Llp ChD 27-Feb-2015 (, [2015] EWHC 460 (Ch))
    The claimant alleged professional negligence by the defendant solicitors who had acted for him in the purchase of a property. The deposit paid by the claimant had been lost after being paid to the seller’s solicitors as agents for the vendor. The . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Last Update: 22 September 2020; Ref: scu.190233