Evicted pensioner loses 16-year battle with lawyers: Judge rules against woman who took on the Law Society single-handed

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The Independent Online
PEGGY WOOD, a frail old woman who lost everything when she was evicted from her cottage, yesterday lost her 16- year legal battle for compensation from the legal profession.

The High Court ruled that, although in 1979 the Law Society was negligent in handling her complaint about the solicitors' firm which eventually sought her eviction, it did not owe Miss Wood, 77, as a member of the public, a duty of care.

Mr Justice Otton outlined the 'distressing' circumstances in which she was now living - on benefit and in a council bedsit. But he said: 'However heartrending her story is and however much I understand and sympathise, authority and principle are heavily weighted against her claim.'

During the 16 years that she has battled over her home, Miss Wood has made 40 court appearances, using four solicitors' firms and 11 barristers, before confronting the Law Society on her own as legal aid was withdrawn.

In a test case, which could have had implications for other self-regulatory bodies, she sued the Law Society for negligence, breach of duty and malfeasance - claiming that had they properly investigated her complaints she might not have lost her home and land.

In the event she lost on all grounds. For even though there had been, in one instance, a finding of negligence, not only was there no duty of care because there was no special definable relationship between her and the society, but also that negligence would not have led to the loss of her home. The real reason for her plight was that over a period of years, she could not satisfy her creditors and 'the law took its inevitable course'.

The saga goes back 20 years and centres on loans arranged for Miss Wood by the solicitors Hubbard and Co, of Chichester, West Sussex.

Miss Wood complained to the Law Society that the firm wrongly acted for both sides in the pounds 10,000 loans taken out on her home, while she sought planning permission to develop the site. Further, she complained that Sylvia Hubbard, her solicitor, had failed to tell her one of the companies that loaned the money was part- owned by Joseph Hubbard, her husband and senior partner.

Problems with planning permission meant that Miss Wood was unable to sell the property and eventually Hubbards sought repayment of the loans. When it was not forthcoming, the firm sought her eviction in 1983.

Miss Wood first wrote to the Law Society in 1979. But the society's professional purposes department declined to investigate, apparently misunderstanding her complaint and regarding it as a 'storm in a teacup'.

But the society later admitted its error, carried out an investigation and issued a rebuke to Hubbards. In February 1987, Miss Wood accepted pounds 2,500 in settlement of claims against Hubbards for alleged negligence and breach of duty.

Miss Wood said she had not yet decided whether to appeal. 'It's a bleak day for all complainants.'

The Law Society did not seek to enforce costs, likely to have been in excess of pounds 50,000, against Miss Wood.

Law report, page 14