The High Court has heard that alleged negligence by a solicitor resulted in a successful property developer ending up on the breadline, reports The Daily Telegraph. The case, which called before Mr. Justice Charles, involved an action for damages raised by Norma Wilson against a Berkshire-based firm of solicitors.

The court heard that, prior to their separation in 2006, Mrs. Wilson, a nurse and property developer, had lived with her husband, a consultant anaesthetist, in a desirable detached property near Ascot.

When Mrs. Wilson and her husband separated in 2006, they decided to press on with plans for the re-development of the former matrimonial home. The couple reached an agreement whereby Mrs. Wilson would pay her husband £500,000 for his share of the house. She would then obtain finance to complete the development, whereupon she would pay a further £1 million to her husband.

The settlement between Mrs. Wilson and her husband was not, however, approved by a judge. When her husband thereafter registered a matrimonial rights restriction over the property, Mrs. Wilson was unable to obtain finance to complete the development work.

Faced with heavy repayments on the property, Mrs. Wilson ended up selling it for £1.9 million, much less than had been contemplated. After paying off the mortgage and other loans, her financial situation was such that she had to apply for income support and move into a one bedroom council flat.

Mrs. Wilson blamed her dramatic change in fortunes on the alleged negligence of a solicitor she and her husband had consulted in connection with the financial settlement agreed between them.

Giving evidence in support of her claim, Mrs. Wilson said that her aim in reaching a settlement had been to save money by bringing the costs involved in the divorce action to an end. She told the court that the solicitor had not informed her that a consent order of settlement was ineffective until approved by the court. Moreover, he had also failed to warn her of the risks involved in implementing any of the settlement terms before the consent order had been judicially approved.

Francis Bacon, counsel for the defendants, who denied liability, said that the sole remit of the solicitor consulted by the Wilsons had been to draw up a consent order encapsulating the terms of the agreement which they had already reached between themselves. Mr. Bacon added that it had not been part of the solicitor’s brief to give advice about the wisdom of the proposed settlement or the likelihood of being able to obtain finance. In short, said Mr. Bacon, “it was no part of the defendant’s duty to protect the claimant, who on her own case was an experienced property developer, against her commercial misjudgements.”

Mr. Justice Charles observed that the terms of the couple’s agreement were “a recipe for disaster” and that things had gone “completely wrong”.

Following the completion of Mrs. Wilson’s evidence, the parties agreed to settle the case on a confidential basis.

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