Pensioner in court battle with legal profession: Woman, aged 77, sues Law Society in unprecedented case alleging conspiracy. Heather Mills reports

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The Independent Online
THE FRAIL figure of Peggy Wood, 77, yesterday took on the legal profession single-handedly in an unprecedented High Court battle which could have major implications for all self-regulating businesses and bodies.

Miss Wood, living in a council bedsit on income support, is suing the Law Society, the solicitors' regulatory body, over the loss of her cottage home and land 10 years ago.

She is alleging that the Law Society failed to properly investigate her complaint of misconduct against the solicitors involved in her eviction in 1983. She also claims Law Society officers conspired to 'injure' her cause by leaking confidential material in breach of the Society's duty of confidentiality.

Miss Wood is having to conduct her own proceedings because her legal aid was withdrawn last year and she cannot afford a barrister. The Law Society, which is strongly contesting her allegations, is represented by two counsel.

But if Miss Wood succeeds it will be the first time a regulatory body has been ruled to owe a duty of care and damages to members of the public who suffer loss because of mishandling of complaints. The case could have implications for bodies as diverse as the General Medical Council and City institutions. Yesterday, in recognition of its public importance, Mr Justice Otton ordered that the Official Solicitor enter the case to assist on the law.

The affair goes back 20 years and centres on the advice Miss Wood received from solicitors, Hubbard and Co, of Chichester, West Sussex. She alleges that they wrongly acted for both sides when they arranged loans for her to develop her land. She also claims they failed to tell her that one loan was supplied by a company, Mobile Homes (Borden) Ltd, which was part-owned by Joseph Hubbard - husband of the partner who acted for Miss Wood.

When, because of delays with planning consent, Miss Wood failed to meet the payments, a writ was issued on behalf of Mobile Homes after Hubbard and Co had said they could no longer represent Miss Wood.

After court battles, she was evicted, the house sold and she went to a Salvation Army hostel, left with pounds 1,400 after her debts were paid. After modernisation and development, the property eventually resold for nearly pounds 200,000.

After initially refusing to entertain her complaints, the Law Society eventually issued a reprimand to Mrs Hubbard. Miss Wood says this was an inadequate sanction following an insufficient inquiry which came too late - after she had been evicted.

She left court with one initial victory. Because she is hard of hearing, in poor health, and is unable to follow the complicated legal argument in the case, the judge agreed an unpaid 'friend' - Ole Hanson, a solicitor, journalist, and law lecturer - could help argue and cross-examine. Normally 'friends' are restricted to note-taking.

Miss Wood is staying in a London hotel for the two-week hearing - funded by the Wrens Benevolent Fund. Miss Wood was a Wren during the last war 'fighting for a free country in which you are supposed to get justice', she said.

(Photograph omitted)