Earlier this year, the respected law firm Levy & McRae, sued Rangers for payment of a £35,000 bill for representing the club in UEFA disciplinary hearings.
The case called in court for a couple of procedural hearings before it was finally resolved and the bill paid.
At the time it was reported that “Judge Lord Hodge was told that Rangers’ new owner, Craig Whyte, wanted to check the details as the claim dated back to when Sir David Murray controlled the club.” – BBC Website 9th September 2011
A Rangers spokesman is quoted in the same piece as saying “”The remarks in the Court of Session today made by McRae & Levy with regard to their concerns about the club’s solvency are unfounded and unwarranted and these are nothing more than scaremongering tactics. The club is extremely disappointed and angry that this action was taken when there were categorical assurances from the club’s lawyers that the money was on its way and it is regrettable that those assurances were not deemed sufficient.”
It is quite in order for a party presented with a bill to delay payment where they have any doubts about it, with the risk of having to pay extra costs, as indeed Rangers did in this case. It is however inappropriate at best to refuse to pay because the other party has annoyed you, and much worse if you instruct your lawyers to defend the case on the ground that you are “clarifying” matters when in fact you are doing so for no legal reason whatever.
If a client tells his lawyers to take action on one basis, but is not being truthful in the instructions he is giving, then this can create a very difficult position for the solicitors and counsel involved, especially as Counsel has to appear in court to put forward the client’s position.
In an extraordinary interview printed in the Scotsman today Tom English spoke to Craig Whyte. There is much to look at in the article, but there is one piece in particular to focus on now.
“Tom English – You seem to be constantly fighting people. The tax man, Bain, McIntyre, the BBC, various solicitors firms, all sorts of people. Levy & McRae took action over an unpaid bill of £35,000. Why is there so much hassle?
Craig Whyte – Levy & McRae acted for Rangers previously and under Law Society rules they shouldn’t be acting against their client so when they represented Bain we complained about them to the Law Society and to be fair we were a bit bloody-minded when we said we weren’t going to pay them because they started acting for Bain against us. That was the reason we didn’t pay them. They took us to court and with hindsight it would have been easier just to pay them.”
I have highlighted the relevant words – Mr Whyte is stating, in public, that the reason for defending the case was not that stated by Rangers’ counsel to the court, but an entirely different one – indeed a “bloody-minded” one! The court was given no indication that the “defence” to the action was to do with any conflict issue.
I have written about this case, and the conflict of interest point before here. I suspect that Levy & McRae might want to politely have Mr Whyte reminded that they took extensive advice prior to acting for Mr Bain, and that Mr Withey of Collyer Bristow, who is on the Board of the company controlling Rangers, failed, allegedly, to advise the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission that Levy & McRae had explained this in detail to him when he lodged his complaint.
Mr Whyte, potentially, will stand up in the Court of Session to give evidence next July in the Bain case. He may well stand up in court in the Court of Session or elsewhere in connection with his threat to sue the BBC. He may be require to attend court as a witness in other cases.
I suspect that Counsel cross examining him in any case will be referring to what I have mentioned above as a way of questioning Mr Whyte’s credibility as a witness.
And as Lord Hodge, the Commercial Judge, is likely to have an involvement in further cases involving Rangers, whilst His Lordship will not of course be affected by newspaper stories, it might lead him to view with an added pinch of salt submissions being made to him.
I am sure however that this is all in fact a misunderstanding, and that Counsel for Rangers got his instructions wrong in some way when appearing in September, or else Mr Whyte has in some way been misquoted.
Surely a prominent businessman would not have admitted in an interview to having effectively misled a court.