Official Solicitor loses High Court misfeasance claim against Kent councils
Judge says claim brought by government lawyer who acted as litigant in person was 'over blown and unsustainable'
The High Court has cleared two Kent councils of abuse of power following a challenge mounted by a senior government lawyer and his surveyor fiancée who were aggrieved by the handling of a planning application.
The Official Solicitor to the Senior Courts, Alastair Pitblado, pictured, and his fiancée Catherine Collins, a surveyor and a non-practising solicitor, brought the misfeasance action against Thanet District Council and Kent County Council.
In May 2012 Pitblado, a barrister, and Collins purchased a plot of land just outside the village boundary of Acol in Kent at auction for £26,000 and applied for planning permission to build a house on the plot.
In April 2013 the local planning authority, Thanet District Council, refused permission because the site was outside the boundary of the village and the house would be prominent and harm the character and appearance of the area. During the course of the planning process Thanet consulted Kent County Council, the highway authority, as required by law.
Thanet's decision was overturned by the planning inspector on appeal in July 2014, who decided that the proposed house was of such an innovative design and would be built to such a high standard that this outweighed the harm it would cause. In March 2015, the claimants sold the site with the benefit of the permission for £110,000.
However, in August 2013 the claimants issued proceedings in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court alleging that both Thanet and Kent councils were guilty of the tort of misfeasance in public office and claimed £150,000 in damages.
The claimants, who represented themselves, alleged that Thanet and Kent's actions in refusing planning permission were 'bent' and that they had been 'stitched up'.
Usually brought against the police for unlawful arrest, the most famous claim for misfeasance in public office is Three Rivers v Bank of England, where the claimants alleged at trial that the Bank of England had acted in bad faith in relation to their failure to supervise Bank of Credit and Commerce International following its collapse.
To succeed in a claim for misfeasance in public office a claimant must establish that the public officials concerned not only acted unlawfully, but dishonestly.
His Honour Judge Yelton dismissed the claimant's action after finding that they had suffered no direct financial loss. The judge described the claim as 'misconceived'.
Commenting on the ruling, John de Waal QC of Hardwicke Chambers, who acted for the defendants, said: 'The claim against Thanet and Kent was described by the judge as "over blown and unsustainable" and the defendants awarded indemnity costs because of the unreasonable way the litigation was conducted.
'This case demonstrates the perils of lawyers acting for themselves and bringing a misconceived claim without first taking independent and objective advice.'