Builder allowed to pursue civil claims

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A BUILDER who made ‘unsubstantiated allegations of perjury’ against members of the Planning Department over a criminal case brought against him in 2010 can continue a civil claim against seven individuals and the States Employment Board, the Royal Court has ruled.

Michael Neville was found guilty of breaching the Planning Law 13 years ago before having his conviction overturned three years later.

He subsequently complained to the States police, leading to the appointment of officers from Norfolk Police to conduct further inquiries into grievances against the Planning Department.

However, the Norfolk officers advised that no criminal proceedings should be instituted and a formal decision not to prosecute any of those involved in Mr Neville’s case was taken by the Solicitor General, a decision later upheld following further consideration under the victim’s right to review.

Now, the Royal Court has ruled that Mr Neville can continue to pursue civil claims for misfeasance in public office involving eight defendants – including the States Employment Board and Andy Scate, the director-general of the Infrastructure, Housing and Environment Department – after it rejected objections that he was out of time.

The case arises from the development of a property at 17 and 19 Devonshire Place which Mr Neville bought with his wife in 2007. He was subsequently convicted of carrying out unauthorised development there and with failing to comply with an enforcement notice issued by the Planning Department.

He lodged an appeal against his conviction and, when it came before the Royal Court on 29 October 2013, Crown Advocate Julian Gollop did not oppose the application, based on concerns about the prosecution, including a submission that the enforcement notice contained fatal defects. Mr Neville’s conviction was quashed and he was awarded his costs from public funds.

At a recent hearing, Advocate Steven Meiklejohn, representing 11 defendants originally summonsed, argued unsuccessfully that, since all the relevant material had been provided to Mr Neville by August 2013, the proceedings begun in October 2016 fell outside the three-year period of limitation and should be struck out.

However, the Master of the Royal Court Advocate Matthew Thompson said such an approach could lead to individuals facing prosecution having to issue civil proceedings before the outcome of their case was known.

In his judgment, Advocate Thompson said: ‘I do not consider this is an effective way for the law to proceed as it runs the risk of civil claims being made and then dismissed with unnecessary costs being incurred.

‘Rather I consider that it is only when an acquittal occurs, or a decision is made not to proceed with a prosecution, that time starts to run for any subsequent civil claims for damages arising out of either the prosecution itself or matters said to have led to the prosecution.’

Advocate Meiklejohn also tried unsuccessfully to have the named defendants employed by the States Employment Board, including Mr Scate, removed from the proceedings on the basis that the board was vicariously responsible for the actions of those it employed.

Advocate Thompson rejected that contention but ruled that the entire conduct of the defence of the litigation should be undertaken by the board to avoid having eight separate answers and legal firms involved.

However, he agreed that claims against two of the parties should be struck out: the Attorney General, who the court decided was not the employer of the fourth defendant – a St Helier Centenier – and a former employee of the Planning Department who is now deceased.

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