Maria Abramova v Oxford Institute of Legal Practice

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeTHE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE BURNETT
Judgment Date18 March 2011
Neutral Citation[2011] EWHC 613 (QB)
CourtQueen's Bench Division
Docket NumberCase No: HQ09X04351
Date18 March 2011

[2011] EWHC 613 (QB)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

Before: The Honourable Mr Justice Burnett

Case No: HQ09X04351

Between
Maria Abramova
Claimant
and
Oxford Institute of Legal Practice
Defendant

Oliver Hyams (instructed by DPA) for the Claimant

Peter Oldham QC (instructed by Berrymans Lace Mawer LLP) for the Defendant

Hearing dates: 31 January – 1 February 2011

THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE BURNETT

THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE BURNETT:

INTRODUCTION

1

Maria Abramova, the claimant, enrolled at the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice ['OXILP'] to take the Legal Practice Course ["LPC"] in the academic year 2004 -2005 as a step towards becoming a solicitor. She failed to pass the course. This is her claim for damages for breach of contract in relation to the provision of educational services provided to her by the defendant.

BACKGROUND

2

The claimant is a Russian national who is now settled in the United Kingdom. She was educated initially in Moscow where she did exceedingly well at school. She came to the United Kingdom in August 1999 when she was 17. Her purpose in coming to the United Kingdom was to try to gain entry to the University of Oxford. She commenced study on A levels. She took A levels in Russian, Spanish and Modern History gaining two As and a B. Thereafter she did a fourth A level in Ancient History, again securing an A grade. The claimant was offered a place at Oriel College, Oxford which she took up in 2001. She read Law. In 2004 she gained an upper second.

3

The claimant's ambition was to qualify and practise as a solicitor. She joined the Law Society as a student member. In November 2003 she made applications through the Law Society to commence the LPC. OXILP was her first choice of institution at which to undertake that course. The claimant was accepted by OXILP and commenced her studies there in September 2004. In the meantime the claimant had undertaken two legal work placements and in 2004, applied to a range of City solicitors for training contracts with a view to starting in September 2006. None of those to whom she applied offered the claimant a training contract. However, Clyde & Co. was prepared to offer the claimant work as a paralegal to commence in September 2005. Immigration restrictions were such that the offer could not be formalised until the following summer. The claimant worked for Clyde & Co. as a paralegal from the autumn of 2005 to sometime in 2006. Thereafter she moved to Gates & Partners where she works in the aviation department. By virtue of her law degree and work experience she undertook in Russia in 2006, the claimant is apparently allowed to practise law in Russia. Gates & Partners thus describe her on its website as a 'lawyer' rather than as a paralegal.

4

OXILP was established jointly by Oxford Brookes University and the University of Oxford to specialise in the delivery of professional legal training. It has since become fully integrated within Oxford Brookes University but at the time during which the claimant was a student there it was a joint venture.

5

Qualification as a solicitor is governed by the Law Society's Training Regulations 1990 made under the Solicitors Act 1974. At the time material for the purposes of this claim, the Law Society was the relevant regulatory body. The Course comprised a number of compulsory subjects, various practical elements and others known as 'electives'. The three compulsory subjects were Business Law and Practice, Litigation, and Property Law and Practice. The practical elements involved skills assessments in Advocacy, Drafting and Legal Research together with Solicitors' Accounts and Business Accounts. The elective subjects chosen for study by the claimant were Private Acquisitions, Debt Finance and Private Client.

6

The broad timetable for the examinations envisaged that all compulsory aspects of the course would be examined by way of assessment in March 2005. The three elective subjects would then be examined in June. In May 2005 the claimant and her fellow students were notified of the examination results in respect of the first tranche of assessments. Unhappily, the claimant failed all three of the compulsory subjects and was assessed as "not yet competent" in Solicitors' Accounts and Advocacy. A letter in standard form was sent to the claimant indicating she would have to re-sit the failed topics. The practical subjects were subject to continuing assessment. She was told that she was entitled to re-sit the others at any sitting of the examinations before the end of July 200Opportunities for re-sitting these failed subjects were available in August/September 2005 or March 200It was thus possible to spread the re-sits over two sittings. The letter indicated the following:

"however, in deciding when to attempt them, you need to take account of possible disadvantages in delaying your re-sits, in particular:

* The impact any delay may have on your obtaining (or retaining) the offer of a training contract;

* The fact that it can be more difficult to pass an assessment taken some time after the course of study on which it is based;

* And the fact that it will be your own responsibility to update yourself on the relevant law.

We will be asking you to notify us within 7 days after publication to you of your final results slip in July whether you wish to take your re-sits in August/September this year or whether you would prefer to defer to March 2006. Where you have more than one subject to take, you may if you choose split your re-sits between August/September and March.

Your personal tutor will be happy to talk about the timing of your re-sit examinations before you reach your decision."

The reference to the results slip in July was to notification of the results in respect of the elective subjects which were to be taken in June 2005.

7

In the period between March 2005 and June 2005 the claimant satisfied OXILP with respect to both the practical elements of Advocacy and Solicitors' Accounts. In July 2005 she received the results of the elective examinations. The claimant passed Private Acquisitions but failed Debt Finance and Private Client. So it was that on 27 July 2005 the claimant received a letter reminding her that she now had five subjects to re-sit namely Business Law and Finance, Property Law and Practice, Litigation, Debt Finance and Private Client. The timing issue was dealt with in the same way as set out in the letter of May 2005. The claimant was asked to notify OXILP by 5 August 2005 whether she intended to take all her re-sits in August/September or defer any of them till March 2006 (in the case of the compulsory subjects) or June 2006 (in the case of elective subjects). She was asked to speak to her personal tutor or other members of staff to discuss the timing of re-sits. Revision sessions were identified and she was 'strongly recommended' to obtain feedback in respect of the failed examinations. On 31 July 2005 the claimant wrote indicating that she wished to take all of the examinations in August/September. That is what she did. The claimant passed three of the five subjects but failed Property Law and Practice again, together with Private Client. The next opportunity to re-sit Property Law and Practice was in March 2006 and the first opportunity to re-sit Private Client was in June 2006. The claimant sat the Property Law and Practice examination for the third time in March 2006 but again failed. As a result of failing a compulsory element of the course on three occasions, the claimant failed the course generally. In those circumstances, there was no purpose to be served in her re-sitting the Private Client paper in June 2006. The stage had been reached where if the claimant wished to persevere in her desire to qualify as a solicitor she was obliged to undertake the whole course again.

8

The claimant did not do the course again. Instead she pursued two different options. First, she obtained authority to practise as a Russian lawyer (referred to above) and secondly she sought to qualify as a trial lawyer in New York. In 2007 the claimant sat the New York Bar examinations but was unsuccessful.

THE PLEADED CASES

9

The claimant relies upon section 13 of the Supply of Goods and Service Act 1982 which provides:

"In the contract for the supply of a service where the supplier is acting in the course of business, there is an implied term that the supplier will carry out the service with reasonable care and skill."

OXILP does not dispute that this term was implied into the contract between the parties. The claimant additionally pleads:

"It was accordingly an implied term of the Agreement that the Institute would exercise reasonable care and skill in, or in relation to:

17.1 the giving of guidance to the Claimant concerning the taking of written examinations; and

17.2 the giving of feedback to the Claimant if and when the Claimant failed an examination, including a written unseen paper."

OXILP does not accept that such additional terms were incorporated into the contract. Subject to its defence that the whole issue of the quality of its teaching is non-justiciable because it involves academic judgements, OXILP contends that these matters pleaded by the claimant, which go to the heart of her complaints, are factual issues which fall to be assessed by reference to the implied contractual term which is indistinguishable from a common law duty of care which the law recognises is owed in a non-contractual educational environment.

10

The breaches of contract alleged against OXILP are set out in paragraphs 19, 20 and 21 of the Particulars of Claim:

"19. The failure … by the Defendant to ensure that the Claimant's mock written examinations in [Property Law and Practice] and Private Client were (1) marked by a member of the staff of the Defendant or (2) at least...

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1 books & journal articles
  • Students as Litigants: a Public Law or a Private Law Issue?
    • Ireland
    • Hibernian Law Journal No. 14-2015, January 2015
    • 1 January 2015
    ...3 All E.R. 752; van Mellaert v Oxford University [2006] EWHC 1565 (QB) (29 June 2006) 81 Abramova v Oxford Institute of Legal Practice [2011] EWHC 613 (QB) (18 March 2010), especially para.58, which references Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (UK) s.13, similar to the Irish Sale of Goo......

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