Geraint Thomas, partner at Laytons ETL Global, is one of the leading authorities on litigation about litigation, having acted in high-profile cases including Willers v Joyce and Monks v East Northamptonshire Council. He tells The Brief about the practice he leads and the potential importance of the tort of abuse of process in holding non-CPS prosecuting authorities accountable for their actions.
Geraint Thomas is a partner and head of the disputes team at the London law firm Laytons ETL Global, which last year became part of the worldwide ETL professional services network. Thomas leads a six-partner team at the firm, and has been involved in some of the most high-profile cases of litigation about litigation to have come before the courts in recent years.
Thomas, a commercial litigation specialist, has spent his entire career with Laytons. He joined the firm in 1989 as an articled clerk, having studied law at Bristol University, and in 1999 became a partner at the firm. He took the helm of the disputes team in 2003.
“I think in our profession loyalty is important,” he tells The Brief, reflecting on more than three decades spent with the same firm. “But, also, I think I have good relations with my colleagues, and I hope they think the same.
“What’s more, I have ended up doing a job that I enjoy doing. That’s not just in terms of the work itself, it’s also interaction with colleagues.
“In particular I get considerable satisfaction from training – that’s to say, bringing on junior lawyers, hopefully sharing some experience, making their journey a bit easier. I get genuine pleasure from that.”
As well as leading the firm’s litigation department, he is also a member of the management committee, with particular responsibility for the firm’s insurance and data protection arrangements. “I just like to get involved in things,” he explains.
The disputes team led by Thomas includes six partners, three solicitors, a trainee and a paralegal. Admitting that the current set-up is “quite top-heavy”, Thomas says the department is actively looking to add a number of additional junior lawyers to its ranks.
As head of a team that “has a very diverse commercial disputes practice” he says he is fortunate to be “able to participate in many more diverse areas than I would if I were just ploughing my own furrow.”
He continues, “Outside my own specialist areas I have also been involved in a lot of international litigation, in shareholder disputes, in property disputes, in information and data breach disputes.
These are really quite diverse areas of practice, so they really keep me interested and on my toes, not least because I have to be able to assist colleagues whose practices are focused in these areas.
Willers v Joyce
One area in which Thomas himself specialises is litigation about litigation. He, along with his fellow partner Rebekah Parker and the barristers Paul Mitchell QC and Tom Shepherd of 4 New Square, advised the executors of the estate of the late supermarkets and gyms tycoon and philanthropist Albert Gubay, who were the defendants in the case of Willers v Joyce. The case was determined in the defendants’ favour in 2018.
“Willers and Joyce was a ground-breaking case,” Thomas says. “There were numerous reported decisions – at least six.
“It did seem as though every issue in the case led to a reported decision at one point, and we had a visit to the Supreme Court, in front of nine Justices, which ruled in favour of the existence of a tort of malicious prosecution of civil proceedings. The Supreme Court also gave an important judgment on the status of decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.”
However, a successful claim for malicious prosecution would need to fulfil a number of requirements, including malice and an absence of reasonable and probable cause and, in the case of Willers v Joyce, the claimant was unable to do so.
Monks v East Northamptonshire Council
While the requirements of the tort of malicious prosecution of civil proceedings can be difficult to establish, the related tort of abuse of process was the successful cause of action in a very high-profile case on which Thomas, Parker and Mitchell once again collaborated, and which settled at the end of 2021. The last time damages had successfully been recovered in the senior courts for abuse of process was 1861.
The case, introduced to Laytons by Paul Mitchell QC, concerned a former publican, Dr Geoffrey Monks, who had lost his home, his health, and been incarcerated following a wrongful prosecution for food safety offences by East Northamptonshire Council in 1999.
A High Court action brought by Dr Monks in 2019, on which he was advised by a legal team led by Thomas, asserted that East Northamptonshire Council embarked on a vendetta against him after he asked a prominent local solicitor to leave the Snooty Fox, one of three pubs he owned, following a dispute about a bottle of wine. The solicitor later identified the Snooty Fox as the potential source of a bout of food poisoning she had suffered, leading the Council to launch an investigation of the premises.
Dr Monks was prosecuted for food safety offences in 1999, and was convicted in 2000, despite the presentation of thin and contradictory evidence against him, and was ordered to pay a fine of £13,500 and costs of £8,300. In 2003, when he was unable to pay the fine, Dr Monks was sent to a category A prison, where he suffered a heart attack and was placed in a cell close to the Soham murderer Ian Huntley, who was at the time awaiting trial.
The Snooty Fox conviction was finally overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2015, following a referral from the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Dr Monks was financially ruined by the actions of East Northamptonshire Council, and was unable to afford to pursue a claim against the Council until, with the assistance of Laytons, he secured insurance from Acasta Europe and funding from Sparkle Capital.
Abuse of process
East Northamptonshire Council was disbanded in 2021, following a programme of local government reorganisation, and its liabilities were taken on by North Northamptonshire Council. This successor body agreed a substantial settlement with Dr Monks, and accepted that the actions of its predecessor had constituted abuse of process.
Dr Monks asserts that his motivations in pursuing his two-decade campaign for justice were not merely financial, and that he wanted both to highlight and deter the misuse of power by local authorities and other non-CPS prosecuting authorities.
With this aim in mind, Thomas believes the tort of abuse of process could prove particularly effective.
He says, “Depending on your factual scenario, you would need to consider whether the tort of malicious prosecution or the tort of abuse of process, or both, apply when identifying your cause of action.
“At this stage, malicious prosecution seems to be potentially the less useful tort of the two. This is because some of its requirements represent high hurdles for a claimant, including the need to show malice and the twin requirements to establish, firstly, that the underlying litigation concluded in the claimant’s favour, and, secondly, an absence of reasonable and probable cause.
“These things will have to be worked through, and it will all depend on the particular facts, but, at this stage, it seems as though the collateral purpose requirement of the tort of abuse of process could be less of an obstacle than certain of the requirements of the tort of malicious prosecution.”
Thomas believes that Dr Monks’ case, and the potential for future actions to be brought on the grounds of abuse of process, should give non-CPS prosecuting authorities pause for thought.
He says, “In cases investigated by the Police, the decision whether to charge an individual with a crime is made by a separate body, the CPS, who must be satisfied there is a realistic prospect of conviction and that it is in the public interest to bring the case to Court. The system may not be perfect, but there is a clear institutional separation between the evidence-gathering body and the prosecuting authority.
There are, however, other public authorities that still have the power to bring criminal prosecutions, who do not have the same degree of independence and circumspection as the CPS. Dr Monks stands as a warning to them that the force of the criminal law cannot be exercised without proper justification.
- Connect with Geraint Thomas via LinkedIn