Littaur v Steggles Palmer

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date27 November 1985
Judgment citation (vLex)[1985] EWCA Civ J1127-5
Date27 November 1985
Docket Number85/0771

[1985] EWCA Civ J1127-5





(Sir Neil Lawson)

Royal Courts of Justice


Lord Justice Ackner

Lord Justice Parker


Sir David Cairns


Gavin Roy Littaur
Appellant (Plaintiff)
Steggles Palmer (a firm)
Respondents (Defendants)

MR. MALCOLM S. KNOTT (instructed by Messrs Bernard Oberman & Co.) appeared on behalf of the Appellant/Plaintiff.

MR. STEPHEN MILLER (instructed by Messrs Steggles Palmer) appeared on behalf of the Respondents/Defendants.

MR. DUNCAN MATHESON appeared on behalf of the Law Society.


Mr. Littaur, who is the appellant, began his hobby as a stamp collector whilst still a child. He is now 35 years of age and has been collecting and dealing in stamps for many years. Over 10 years ago he began to obtain overdraft facilities from the merchant bank, Hill Samuel & Co. Ltd. These facilities were gradually increased, until the amount which he owed the bank was in excess of £1 million. On 26th June 1981, the bank issued a writ against Mr. Littaur, claiming £1,385,219.00 plus interest, and on that day an Anton Pillar order, no doubt directed to discovering what stamps Mr. Littaur then had in his possession, was granted.


On 3rd July Mr. Justice Goff (as he then was) granted to the bank a Mareva Injunction restraining Mr. Littaur from selling or disposing of certain stamps and requiring him to disclose the name and address of a person to whom he had sold those stamps. These stamps had in fact been removed by Mr. Littaur from the jurisdiction, taken to Switzerland and deposited in the left-luggage depot in Zurich railway station in order that they should be out of the reach of the court.


Mr. Littaur failed to provide this information. On 24th July, after an inter partes hearing, an order was made committing Mr. Littaur to prison for contempt of court in not providing the information, which order was suspended until 5.00 pm. on 5th August. According to a statement which he provided to the Legal Aid Authorities, in circumstances to which I will refer later, about midday on 5th August he did reveal to his then solicitor the name of the purchaser and then decided to depart abroad "for a much needed holiday" and travelled to America and New Zealand.


Towards the end of August he returned, telephoned his solicitor and, so he asserts, was informed that the letter disclosing the name of the purchaser had not reached the bank's solicitors until after 5.00 pm. and that he was therefore in contempt of court and liable to arrest. He then consulted several firms of solicitors and ultimately, in September, the firm of Steggles Palmer, the respondents to this appeal. Meanwhile the bank had obtained judgment in default and therefore the action, from a practical point of view, was at an end. Since the bank had obtained the required information, they took no steps to enforce the committal order.


Mr. Roger Bryan Lincoln, the partner in the respondent firm who at all material times acted for Mr. Littaur, in an affidavit sworn on 6th September 1984, states that when Mr. Littaur first consulted him he wanted advice about how to bring the bank's claim to a satisfactory conclusion and also to deal with a bankruptcy notice which had been served by another creditor. Mr. Lincoln states that, given the amount of money involved, the extent of the paperwork that had already been generated and the complexity of Mr. Littaur's affairs, he explained to him that he would not be able to advise him on a legal aid basis. Later, however, when it became apparent that it was essential for Mr. Littaur to seek to purge his contempt, in relation to that—and only in relation to that—Mr. Lincoln made it clear to Mr. Littaur that he would act under a legal aid certificate, assuming, of course, one was granted. All this is well documented in the correspondence which passed between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Littaur in February 1983.


On 30th March 1984 Mr. Lincoln made an application on behalf of Mr. Littaur for legal aid "to purge my contempt of court in civil proceedings against me", and in that application the name of the bank was given. A long statement, to which I have already made reference, accompanied the application form. On July 21st Mr. Littaur was granted a legal aid certificate. The description of the legal aid granted was, "To apply within proceedings in the Queen's Bench Division 1981 H No 4352 between Hill Samuel & Co. Ltd. Plaintiff and G Littaur defendant to purge the assisted person's contempt for breach of the order dated 24th July 1981." The next heading, "2 Conditions and limitations (if any)" was blank.


Mr. Littaur's application was not heard until 31st August 1983. Before that hearing, viz. on 25th July, he was arrested and committed to prison for failing to comply with the order of July. His application to purge his contempt did not impress Mr. Justice Popplewell, who dismissed the application and ordered him to serve some 56 days in prison for contempt.


Mr. Lincoln visited Mr. Littaur in prison and told him that counsel had advised that any appeal against the order would be unsuccessful. Mr. Lincoln also telephoned the Law Society to ask for an extension of the legal aid certificate to cover an appeal, but was told that such an application would be refused.


Mr. Lincoln was then approached by Mr. Littaur's father, who sought advice about his son's position. He was told of counsel's opinion, but this did not satisfy him. He wished personally to obtain an opinion of leading counsel, for which he was willing to pay. Mr. Lincoln contacted the Legal Aid Area Secretary's department of the Law Society in order to ensure that it was proper for him to accept the father's instructions, and was advised that this was in order. Accordingly he sought advice from leading counsel and in due course received that advice, which shared the views already expressed by junior counsel.


Both Mr. Littaur and his father accepted this advice and Mr. Lincoln accordingly took the view that the purpose for which the legal aid certificate had been granted had been fulfilled and that the legal aid certificate was therefore spent. However, Mr. Littaur's application had the effect of reviving the bank's action and their interest in Mr. Littaur and an application was made by them for Mr. Littaur to be orally examined. On 28th September 1983 an order was made by Master Topley for an oral examination to take place at the Clerkenwell County Court on 20th December 1983. Mr. Littaur was served with the application while he was still at Pentonville Prison and he instructed Mr. Lincoln to obtain advice on the oral examination, not only from junior counsel, but from leading counsel who, as stated above, had advised his father as to the prospects of a successful appeal against the committal order.


Mr. Lincoln took the view, based on past experience, that legal aid would not be granted for an oral examination, which examination of course only related to the ability of the defendant to satisfy a judgment which had already been obtained. He accordingly explained to Mr. Littaur that his legal aid certificate had expired and that it would be extremely costly to take advice from, and possibly brief, leading counsel.


At about the same time Mr. Littaur raised the question of whether or not it would be appropriate to seek to apply to discharge the Mareva Injunction. Since this would have involved an application to the court, for which legal aid could be available, Mr. Lincoln advised Mr. Littaur to make the appropriate application for a fresh legal aid certificate, but he was subsequently advised by junior counsel that the Law Society would only consider the granting of legal aid to discharge or vary the injunction after the oral examination had been concluded. Leading counsel who was brought in advised that, as the oral examination might possibly result in a further committal, or alternatively might satisfy the bank of the plaintiff's ability or inability to pay the judgment sum, it was hardly practicable to make an application to the court to vary or discharge the injunction until the oral hearing had been concluded. Mr. Littaur was so informed by letter of 16th November.


It is common ground (and I stress this), and indeed Mr. Littaur in his affidavit sworn on 18th June accepts in terms that he well knew, that any work that was carried out after the failure of the application to purge his contempt would be charged for privately and would not be paid for from the Legal Aid Fund.


I need not deal in detail with the subsequent events. Suffice it to say that thereafter a considerable amount of work was done by the respondent firm of solicitors, for which they received payment on account from Mr. Littaur's father, but there still is, so they claim, an outstanding balance of some £1,400 owed to them.


After the examination had taken place at the Clerkenwell County Court, leading counsel was again instructed, in March 1984, to advise in regard to the Mareva Injunction, but Mr. Lincoln was not prepared to release leading counsel's opinion until his and counsel's fees were paid. This resulted in Mr. Littaur instructing fresh solicitors, Bernard Oberman & Co. They sought to obtain Mr. Littaur's papers, but Mr. Lincoln claimed a lien upon them. Mr. Torrence of Bernard Oberman contended that the purported lien was invalid by reason of a breach of Regulation 65 of the Legal Aid (General) Regulations 1980 and on 11th...

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    • United Kingdom
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    • 23 May 2017
    ...a client may cease to be a publicly funded litigant even in the absence of formal discharge of the funding certificate. 32 Thus in Littaur v Steggles Palmer [1986] 1 WLR 287 legal aid had been granted, on the application of a firm of solicitors, to enable the plaintiff to purge his contempt......
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    ...context in which it is used, (see Minister for Justice v. Information Commissioner [2001] 3 I.R. 43 at 45: Littaur v. Steggles Palmer [1986] 1 W.L.R. 287 at 293 A-E). In my judgment it cannot be considered that the legislature intended so radical an alteration to the law and practice as to......
  • Heather Hill Management Company Clg and Gabriel McGoldrick v an Bord Pleanála
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    • 14 October 2021 reference to the context in which it is used, (see Minister for Justice v. Information Commissioner [2001] 3 I.R. 43 at 45: Littaur v. Steggles Palmer [1986] 1 W.L.R. 287 at 293 A-E). In my judgment it cannot be considered that the legislature intended so radical an alteration to the la......
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