CA orders retrial after High Court judge’s “inadequate” ruling

Knowles: No analysis of the contemporary documents, said CA

The Court of Appeal has “reluctantly” ordered the retrial of a Commercial Court case after finding that the judge failed to address all the evidence before him.

Lord Justice Males acknowledged that this was a “last resort”, but said allowing the judgment of Mr Justice Robin Knowles to stand, “making as it does serious and inadequately reasoned findings”, would be more unfair on the claimants than on the defendants, despite the cost and additional stress it would cause them.

The claimants in Simetra Global Assets Ltd & Anor v Ikon Finance Ltd & Ors [2019] EWCA Civ 1413 claimed to have been the victims of a Ponzi scheme, but after a 13-day trial, Robin Knowles J dismissed the claim in a 13-page ruling.

Males LJ, giving the ruling of the appeal court, said that whilst succinctness was “desirable”, “short judgments must be careful judgments.

He continued: “It is not necessary to deal expressly with every point, but a judge must say enough to show that care has been taken and that the evidence as a whole has been properly considered.”

Males LJ emphasised the importance of contemporary documents generally in litigation, and said that where they provided “cogent evidence contrary to the conclusion which the judge proposes to reach, he should explain why they are not to be taken at face value or are outweighed by other compelling considerations”.

This made it “striking” that Robin Knowles J’s ruling “contains virtually no analysis of the contemporary documents”, many of which appeared to shed “considerable light” on key issues in the case.

“[The appellant’s counsel Stephen] Hofmeyr submitted that there was no clear statement of the issues which the judge needed to decide, no marshalling of the evidence for and against the appellants’ case on the various issues, and (save for his wholesale rejection of the appellants’ witness evidence), no real explanation of why the judge reached the conclusion which he did.

“Instead, in effect the judge took a shortcut, focusing exclusively on the issue of Ikon’s dishonesty and the appellants’ reliance but, in the process, losing sight of the overall shape of the case and the evidence as a whole.

“There is nothing wrong with a shortcut, provided you don’t get lost. Unfortunately, however, I consider that this criticism is well-founded.”

Males LJ stressed that he was not implying that the result of the retrial was a foregone conclusion – “far from it”. But “reluctantly” he remitted the case for retrial before a different judge.

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