Peggy Wood, now living in a council bedsit and on income support, was given the go-ahead to sue the Law Society - the solicitors' governing body - for its alleged failure to investigate properly her complaints against the law firm which had her thrown out of her bungalow in 1983.
Hers will be the first case in which the High Court will be asked to consider the question of whether self-regulating organisations, like the Law Society, are liable to members of the public for mishandling complaints. For Miss Wood alleges that, had the society properly investigated her complaints in 1979 and 1983, she might not have lost her home.
It centres on advice she received from Chichester-based solicitors Hubbard and Co in 1973, when she needed income and was also seeking planning approval to develop her land.
She alleges that it arranged a series of loans for her, knowing she could not repay the interest that would accumulate and that the firm failed to tell her that the lending company, Mobile Home (Bordon), was connected to the solicitors. Mobile Homes was half-owned by Joseph Hubbard - senior partner of her solicitors' firm.
When she failed to meet the payments, Hubbard and Co had her evicted on Mobile Homes' behalf.
Her claim against the society had been struck out in her absence two weeks ago, after she had been wrongly advised that she did not need to attend a court hearing. Her last solicitors, Arnold Rosen and Co, had formally applied not to represent her any more and she had not realised that the case would proceed.
Yesterday she apologised and asked that the case be relisted. The Law Society contested her application, claiming that not only was it 'unhappy' that she had failed to turn up for the hearing, but that her case had no merit and was an abuse of process.
John Powell, for the society, said it had no duty of care to the public and that although it was a regulatory body, it was not a controller.
He said publicity given to Miss Wood's claim since it was launched in 1989 was 'unfair' to the Law Society and 'enough is enough'.
But the judge said he thought it would be 'right and just' for Miss Wood's claim to be heard as soon as possible. The judge agreed a date in March at the earliest.Reuse content