Kingsmill hit by negligence ruling

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The Independent Online

Denise Kingsmill, deputy chair of the Competition Commission, is facing a claim for more than £1m in damages after being found to have been professionally negligent. The commission has not had an easy time lately. Its decision to block Interbrew's takeover of Bass was overturned by the High Court, and it became embroiled in a row with the big banks over whether they make excess profits from small business customers.

Ms Kingsmill is being sued alongside Judge Peter Clark, who is also chairman of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, and the law firm DJ Freeman, where Ms Kingsmill was once a partner.

The claim relates to her career as a lawyer, when she took the case of a 12-year- old girl, Victoria Griffin, who had been run over by a BMW in 1988. The girl was left with severe brain damage, and cannot walk or talk. Ms Kingsmill and Judge Clarke, who was a barrister in private practice at the time, advised the girl's parents that an out-of-court settlement offer of £50,000 should be accepted from the car driver's insurance firm. But the Court of Appeal ruled in June that they had been negligent in making this judgment. It found against Ms Kingsmill and ruled that "an experienced and competent personal injury litigator ought not to have advised acceptance of the offer of £50,000".

It believed that Ms Griffin could have won at least £1m if she had won her original claim for damages.

All defendants have applied for leave to appeal to the House of Lords. An appeal committee is deciding whether to grant leave and is expected to announce the decision in mid-October. The lawyer representing Ms Griffin, Kay Pysden at Davies Lavery, said she could not comment on the case until the court proceedings are over. But she did say the court will decide the damages claim, estimated at £1.4m.

Ms Kingsmill had taken on the case when she was running her own firm but took it with her when she joined DJ Freeman. Judge Clarke was then a barrister at Devereux Chambers.

David Lancaster, who represents Judge Clark, said he thought the Court of Appeal was wrong because it had misinterpreted the facts and wrongly applied the "relevant and well-established" rules of law over professional negligence cases. "[My client] looked very carefully at all the evidence and weighed it up most carefully to advise [Ms Griffin's parents] that they should take £50,000 in settlement, as opposed to running the risk of going on to trial and losing," he said. The real value of the current claim could not be more than £250,000, excluding interest, he added.

A spokesperson for the Competition Commission said Ms Kingsmill did not want to comment. Lawyers representing her also declined to comment.

She joined the commission in 1996, and was recently appointed a non-executive director of Telewest Communications. Until recently she was deputy chair of MFI Furniture, a non-executive director of the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society, and chair of Optimum Health Services NHS Trust. Ms Kingsmill has been asked by the Government to review the issue of women's pay and employment.