Court rejects LiP’s “indiscriminate attack” on legal expenses insurers

SRA: One of four regulators targeted

The High Court has struck out a claim by a litigant-in-person (LiP) who responded to the failure of her employment tribunal case by launching an “indiscriminate attack” against legal expenses insurers and regulators.

Ms Margaret Obi, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, held that the claim, which included fraud, was an attempt by the claimant to “reventilate” her employment case and an abuse of process.

The insurers involved were Arc Legal Assistance and DAS Legal. The regulators were the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Bar Standards Board (BSB), Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

The High Court heard in Clarke v Arc Legal Assistance [2020] EWHC 56 (QB) that Phyliss Clarke, a data analytics manager at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), made a number of claims against her former employer including unfair dismissal and race discrimination in 2016.

After rejecting an offer from GSK of £60,200 in August 2017, Ms Clarke lost the backing of her legal expenses insurer Arc and went on to lose her employment case at a tribunal the following month.

Ms Obi said that, during the course of Ms Clarke’s claim, Arc had paid out over £50,000 in legal fees and it was entitled to withdraw cover once Ms Clarke failed to accept the settlement offer against the advice of her solicitors, while her barrister warned that the claim no longer had the 51% chance of success that Arc needed.

Ms Clarke responded to the dismissal of her employment claim by complaining about Arc to FOS. Although FOS upheld her complaint in part, regarding the way Arc communicated on one issue, Ms Clarke later accused FOS of “fraud”.

In addition to her legal expenses policy with Arc, Ms Clarke had another one with DAS. This cover was also withdrawn when she rejected the settlement offer.

Ms Clarke wrote to the six defendants in August 2018, under the heading “Legal Letter – Pre Action Protocol”. She alleged that Arc and DAS had committed breaches of their policies and were in breach of contract. They had also breached her confidentiality by leaking information to GSK.

She accused the SRA, BSB, LeO and FOS of “fraud by false representation” and alleged that the SRA had infringed her human rights.

Ms Obi said the defendants “all complained, in essence, that Ms Clarke’s claim was incoherent, unreasonably vague and ill-founded”.

On breach of contract, Ms Obi said Ms Clarke had not “pleaded any loss”, and on breach of confidentiality she had provided no evidence.

She said Ms Clarke’s fraud allegation was “based on assertion”, with “no factual or evidential basis”. On human rights, her complaints “did not relate to the determination of her civil rights and or criminal charges”.

Ms Obi said service of particulars of claim was not “a mere technicality” and a hearing would not be fair “unless it is possible for the defendant to understand and respond” to the claimant’s case.

“It is not appropriate to expect the defendants and the court to decipher the nature and extent of the claim based on a vague outline with reference to page numbers in an accompanying bundle of documents.

“Furthermore, although Ms Clarke is a litigant in person, it does not fall upon the defendants or the court to try to articulate Ms Clarke’s claim for her.

“As critical elements have not been clearly pleaded, a close analysis of the merits of Ms Clarke’s claim is not possible.”

Ms Obi concluded that “overall the claim is incoherent and does not make sense” and there were no reasonable grounds for bringing it.

Even if she was wrong on the merits of the claim, it could not proceed because it was “abusive in nature”, representing an “indiscriminate attack on decisions or opinions which have been adverse to Ms Clarke”.

Ms Obi went on: “There can be no doubt, based on the content of Ms Clarke’s particulars and strike-out response, that she feels aggrieved and is distressed that her claim in the employment tribunal was unsuccessful. Her claim in this court is an attempt to reventilate those matters.”

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