In 2018, Collyer Bristow reported on a Commercial Court decision in which Mr Justice Knowles dismissed allegations of fraud against forex trading firm Ikon Finance (“Ikon”). Simetra Global Assets Limited and Richcroft Investments Limited (the “Claimants”) accused Ikon of assisting George Daskaleas to misappropriate large sums of subscription funds from investors, which were supposed to be actively traded on online forex platforms. The trial lasted 13 days. However, in a brief judgment, Mr Justice Knowles held that the Claimants’ allegations had failed “in every material respect”.
Further details about the first instance decision can be found here.
The Claimants appealed the decision, arguing for a retrial with a different Judge on the basis that Mr Justice Knowles had failed to give adequate reasons for his decision.
The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. It was held that the failure to give reasons for a conclusion essential to a judge’s decision is a good ground of appeal. Lord Justice Males, who delivered the lead judgment, explained that whilst it is not strictly necessary for a Judge to deal expressly with every single point, she or he “must say enough to show that care has been taken and that the evidence as a whole has been properly considered.” A judge can achieve this by: (1) identifying the issues which need to be decided; (2) marshalling the evidence which bears on those issues; and (3) giving reasons why the principally relevant evidence is either to be accepted or rejected. The Court of Appeal held that Mr Justice Knowles failed to meet those criteria because:
- The judgment contained no analysis of certain contemporary documents, which appeared on their face to provide evidence that conflicted with the judge’s conclusions. The Court of Appeal said that Mr Justice Knowles should have explained why that evidence was outweighed by other compelling considerations and/or why the documents ought not to be taken at face value.
- Although Mr Daskaleas was himself a defendant to the original claim, his defence was struck out early in the proceedings and he did not participate at trial. The Claimants nevertheless sought judgment against him. However, Mr Justice Knowles seemingly overlooked, or (for reasons which were not explained in his judgment) made a positive decision not to deal with, that aspect of the claim, because he made no findings against Mr Daskaleas. The Court of Appeal held this to be a significant omission, because the underlying claim against Ikon for “dishonest assistance” could only succeed if Mr Daskaleas had committed a breach of fiduciary duty. Mr Justice Knowles, however, did not address the existence or nature of any duties owed to the Claimants by Mr Daskaleas.
- Mr Justice Knowles was said to have misunderstood the purpose of expert evidence adduced at trial, failing to appreciate its full impact.
- It was noted that Mr Justice Knowles’ conclusions were very heavily founded on his assessment of the witness evidence. However, there was nothing in his judgment to suggest that the oral evidence had been tested by reference to contemporary documents (particularly those which on their face seemed contrary to the Judge’s conclusions).
The Court of Appeal decided that, although putting the Defendants through the stress and expense of a retrial was regrettable, it would be more unfair to let the “serious and inadequately reasoned findings” of the Judge stand.
This decision shows that the Court of Appeal is intent on maintaining rigorously high standards expected of High Court Judges with respect to their judgments. Litigants should bear in mind that if a decision goes against them, any failure by the Judge to give adequate reasons for their conclusions may give rise to a valid ground of appeal.