Court of Session ruling expected on 16 year civil damages claim after 8 weeks of hearings over 2 years. THE COURT OF SESSION is soon expected to issue a ruling in a SIXTEEN YEAR battle for justice in a medical injury case against Motherwell College & North Lanarkshire Council. The case, which is the longest of its kind on record, regarding a workplace injury which occurred in 1995, has taken a staggering sixteen years out of the life of Mr Martin Wilson, a Music Lecturer who suffered severe back injuries after help was denied to him in the course of his duties by its now former Principal Richard Millham, who was dubbed a “Bully Boss” by national newspapers after Motherwell College lost a string of unfair dismissal claims brought by College staff.
Members of staff at Motherwell College were reported to have described ‘a strong climate of fear which is still there’. One of several unanimous decisions by Employment Tribunals against the College confirmed that Mr Wilson was unfairly dismissed while on long term sickness leave.
Lord Woolman is the presiding judge in the present claim of M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01). Investigations conducted by the media have revealed the case has generated thousands of pages of transcripts along with numerous hearings before the Court of Session where internationally acclaimed expert medical witnesses from the UK and abroad disputed the testimony of Motherwell College’s own ‘experts’. As the hearings ‘progressed’, many legal observers to the case indicated matters could & should have been resolved years ago, some expressing opinions the case appeared to have been prolonged by legal teams solely for the purpose of generating legal fees from Motherwell College totalling HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF POUNDS, ultimately paid for by taxpayers.
An in-depth investigation into the case carried out by Scottish Law Reporter, compiled with the help of observers to the legal proceedings and senior legal insiders, berated Motherwell College and its legal representatives for wilfully delaying for THIRTEEN YEARS after Mr Wilson’s injury before commissioning an expert ergonomics report in this manual handling claim, and then only after Mr Wilson had managed to gain access to the defenders premises, something no fewer than FOUR ‘normally reliable’ law firms which included the well known Edinburgh law firm of Balfour & Manson & the Glasgow based Harper Macleod who had previously ‘represented Mr Wilson’s best interests’ had failed to do during the thirteen years since the summons was served on Motherwell College.
Damning evidence from interviews with legal observers to the proceedings revealed instances where despite the court suggesting the defenders make the “expert ergonomics report” available to Mr Wilson as soon as possible, the legal agents acting for Motherwell College, Simpson and Marwick, withheld the report until approximately 72 hours before the Proof was scheduled to begin in June of 2008, and then only handing it over on Court premises during a procedural hearing before Lord Penrose.
After being told of the report being withheld from the pursuer, Lord Penrose claimed that the defenders had been “playing fast and loose with due process in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage” and “had rendered the scheduled proof hearing unsafe”. Lord Penrose then invited Motherwell College representatives to apply for a postponement, which they did, and despite the party litigant being prepared to continue regardless – he had paid for distinguished expert witnesses to travel from destinations as far afield as the Western United States.
Taking the defenders legal representatives conduct into account, Lord Penrose described the situation as ‘unfortunate’ yet amazingly, no penalty was imposed on the defenders and these tactics, widely viewed as cynical delaying tactics, led to a further delay of over a year, the hearings finally getting started in November 2009 at the Court of Session under Lord Woolman. Later that month, and only after the Proof hearings had begun, a ruling in the Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & others case heralded in the appearance of Scotland’s first Civil Law McKenzie Friend in a Court of Session case.
According to legal observers, hearings in the case continued “sporadically” and one year later in November 2010 Motherwell College’s legal team told the court they were withdrawing their “expert ergonomics report” and would not be relying on it, leading many observers to view the defender’s case as being “unsustainable”.
The report by Scottish Law Reporter also revealed that out of a total of some SIXTEEN LAY WITNESSES to be called by Motherwell College, only FOUR eventually appeared, and none of those included the key player in Mr Wilson’s earlier successful Employment Tribunal Decision against the College, it’s disgraced former Principal, Richard Millham.
Astonishingly the defenders suddenly decided at the last minute in January 2011 not to call the College’s former Health and Safety Officer in a manual handling claim, – a consequence perhaps of the defenders failure to produce a single risk assessment or manual handling record. Observers to hearings of the case described the testimony of Motherwell College’s expert witnesses as “lacking any credibility whatsoever”, “highly scripted”, and “unusually combative”.
North Lanarkshire Council & Motherwell College were represented throughout hearings at the Court of Session by Edinburgh law firm Simpson & Marwick. Senior Counsel for Simpson & Marwick was Ian MacKay QC, Junior Counsel was Calum Wilson both of Compass Chambers.
Political connections ? Former Motherwell College Principal Richard Millham, pictured (left) with the then First Minister Jack McConnell (right) in Motherwell FC awards ceremony. While the Court of Session is expected to issue its ruling soon, there remain significant questions over who or what delayed a civil damages claim for approximately 16 years against scandal hit Motherwell College. Senior legal insiders have indicated the case may well form part of an effort to have the Scottish Parliament look at the regular and unjustifiable delays in access to justice in the Scottish courts while some have raised questions over the possibility influence of a political nature may have been exerted on law firms to delay Mr Wilson’s access to justice.
BACKGROUND TO MOTHERWELL COLLEGE CLIMATE OF FEAR & 16 YEAR JUSTICE BATTLE :
Motherwell College squandered £300K of taxpayers money fighting a string of Tribunal hearings involving bullying allegations against lecturers which the College lost. A number of media reports, referred to in earlier coverage by Scottish Law Reporter, show Motherwell College were involved in a string of Employment Tribunal decisions the college lost during Richard Millham’s term as Principal of Motherwell College. Allegations in newspapers including the Sunday Mail reported that “In 1999, lecturer Martin Wilson won £4000 after a tribunal ruled he had been unfairly fired. He had a back injury and could not work. A close friend said : “He was targeted by Millham. There was a strong climate of fear, which is still there .”
Scottish Law Reporter reported in earlier coverage : “From 1995-1998 Motherwell College opposed Mr Wilson’s claim for Unfair Dismissal while on long term sickness leave and lost, to a unanimous decision. Undeterred Motherwell College appealed the decision, and lost again. This was the first of several high profile Employment Tribunal cases lost by the Board of Management of Motherwell College, often to unanimous decisions against it.”
I have reported on this case in previous articles, here : FIFTEEN year wait for justice against Motherwell College marks poor state of Scotland’s ‘Victorian’ Justice System on European Civil Justice Day and here : Access to Justice ? Law Society’s insurers Marsh UK linked to SIXTEEN YEAR Court of Session civil damages claim against Motherwell College