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Victory for pro bono client in Court of Appeal

Josephine Davies has secured a victory for Gillian Simpson in an appeal of a 2014 judgment which awarded her only nominal damages for conversion of goods.

The dispute concerned a family business of which Ms Simpson was the sole proprietor but in which her brother and parents were also involved. The business operated out of the parents’ house. Following a breakdown in family relations the parents retained stock of the business and HHJ Butler found that their actions were a wrongful interference with the goods (a conversion). Largely because no expert evidence of value had been produced, the judge awarded Ms Simpson only £500 as nominal damages.

Ms Simpson appeared as a litigant in person in the trial before HHJ Butler and did not challenge an earlier case management decision (of a different judge) that there should be no expert evidence. In the Court of Appeal, Josephine Davies was instructed as sole counsel by the Bar Pro Bono Unit.  

Having described Miss Davies’ submissions as “helpful and well-argued”, Lady Justice Black found that, “There is no sense that the judge considered that £500 represented the extent of that loss. Rather it was the figure to which he felt he was limited because of the absence of evidence as to the actual amount of the loss”. She continued, “based on the fuller appreciation that we now have of the situation, the right course in all the circumstances would have been to adjourn the issue of damages for a further hearing”.    

Accordingly, Black LJ (with whom Jackson LJ and Patten LJ agreed) set aside the damages award and remitted the case to HHJ Butler for assessment of damages following directions for evidence.