It always astonishes me when I read Charge of the Light Brigade that such a wonderful poem could have been inspired by those three little words appearing in The Times report of the Battle of Balaclava.  Such a little things can have such amazing consequences.  Which is why, when faced with the following case, those three little words immediately sprang to mind.

It was going to be a very simple case really.  My clients had been tenants in social housing when they were approached by a party suggesting that they could purchase their property under the Right to Buy legislation.  The clients were excited by the prospect, agreed to do so and instructed solicitors to deal with the purchase.  The purchase went through about eight years ago and my clients were happy;  For a short while at least.

They hadn’t appreciated a couple of things about owning their own property.  For example, if anything went wrong with the property, they were now responsible for the repair costs.  At the same time though, they seemed to be paying quite a bit over the odds on their mortgage in commission and the like to the broker.

I don’t need to go into details – it isn’t the point of this article.  If you want more details of the type of problem they were facing, just pop ‘Right to Buy Scandal’ in your search engine and you can find out the issues.  Needless to say, they instructed a different firm of solicitors to deal with the resulting professional negligence claim.

The first thing the solicitors noticed was that, at the time they were instructed a couple of years ago, the limitation period on the claim was about to expire.  They contacted the other side and invited them to enter into a Limitation Standstill Agreement which they agreed to do.  A standstill agreement, for all intents and purposes, extends the limitation period.  That is not technically how it works but it is a good enough explanation.

The agreement was drawn up, identifying the nature of the claim, and was said to last for three months.  At the end of the three months, the limitation period would expire unless another agreement was entered into.  Which is exactly what the parties did.  They used the same agreement as before, just updating it.  In fact, they did it a total of four times, extending the limitation period each time.

For various reasons, my clients had to instruct a new firm of solicitors and chose us, Slee Blackwell.  They sent the file over to me and I spent a couple of hours going through the papers.  Immediately, I saw that limitation had technically expired but was pleased to see that there were four standstill agreements, all back to back, which had extended the limitation period - so they were covered.

Until I noticed ‘The Mistake’.

The Standstill Agreements had all been carefully drafted stating that they related to a claim that my clients were going to bring against their former solicitors for purchase of 5 Mawdsley Avenue.  The problem is that my clients had actually purchased 75 Mawdsley Avenue.

Such a tiny little mistake; such huge consequences.  The Standstill Agreements are invalid.  The limitation period therefore expired ages ago.  The second set of solicitors have been negligent.

Any wonder that all I could think of was “someone had blunder’d”?