Borders solicitor Ronald Hastings 'may have contemplated suicide' over leaflet allegations of lying in court, sued the grandparent author instead. RONALD ANDREW HASTINGS (aged 53), a solicitor who runs Hastings & Co, The Square, Kelso, a law firm & estate agents based in the Scottish Borders is reported to have been awarded FIFTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS after he sued a grandparent for ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY THOUSAND POUNDS over claims he lied to a court in connection with reports the solicitor compiled in a divorce case. Court of Session judge Lord Mathews who heard the case, found claims made by the grandparent in the leaflet naming Mr Hastings in connection with allegations relating to the divorce case, to be ‘vitriolic’.
However, Lord Mathews REFUSED to take into account evidence provided by the solicitor’s wife that she feared her husband was contemplating suicide over the incident, saying “that was not something which was referred to by the pursuer at all far less as being something which was attributable to the statements made about himas no similar claims had been made by Mr Hastings to the court.”
The Herald newspaper reported on the case : “The dispute between Mr Hastings and the man – who cannot be named for legal reasons –began when the solicitor was instructed to compile a report in a divorce case at Jedburgh Sheriff Court. It involved him (Mr Hastings) reporting on the circumstances of the grandchildren of the man involved. The grandfather was unhappy with the report as it contained certain claims against him and his contact with the children, which were later found to be inaccurate. He then began posting leaflets to homes and businesses in Kelso, rubbishing Mr Hastings's name.”
The Court of Session was told Mr Hastings was a solicitor in the Borders. By interlocutor dated 30 January 2004 pronounced at Jedburgh Sheriff Court he was appointed to investigate and report on the welfare and circumstances of the children of the parties to a divorce action. The defender in that action was the current defender's son, the children therefore being his grandchildren. Having made certain investigations and interviewed the defender on 24 February 2004, the pursuer submitted his report to the court on 4 March 2004. It is now accepted that the report contained certain inaccuracies. Broadly speaking, the pursuer contends that these were innocent mistakes, while the defender's position is that these were malicious lies.
Speaking in support of her husband, Mrs Hastings told the court in evidence : “She worried about his state of mental health and was concerned in case he would contemplate suicide. On one occasion they had had an argument and he started putting things into an overnight bag. She thought that he was going to drive off but she hid the car keys and his mobile so that he could not go away.”
However, Lord Mathews said he would not take Mrs Hastings claims of worries her husband would commit suicide into account as there was no attribution to this by Mr Hastings in his own testimony to the court.
Lord Mathews said : “I have no doubt that all of this has had an effect on the defender but it is the effect on the pursuer which I have to consider. In doing so I have to have regard to a number of factors. The pursuer's own evidence was that he had been distracted from getting on with his job, had missed some days at work, at least in part, due to the stress of this and there had been some family worries.”
“His wife went further, indicating that he had lost his motivation quite a lot, had put on weight, had stopped exercising and at least to some extent was no longer motivated to go into work. He wondered what the point was of doing a good job if someone could demolish his reputation. He was very down hearted and the whole matter had put strains on their marriage. She did refer to concerns that he might commit suicide but that was not something which was referred to by the pursuer at all far less as being something which was attributable to the statements made about him.”
“I have no reason to doubt the evidence of the pursuer's wife but in the absence of any attribution by him of suicidal thoughts to the defamation, I do not take them into account. It seems to me also that the effect of the court action is probably marginal. As I assess his evidence the pursuer understood that solicitors were used to criticisms and his main concern was to put the matter to bed by way of a permanent interdict.”
Lord Mathews commented on the size of Mr Hastings £150K claim for damages, saying : “I do not consider, on the evidence before me, that the damages should be as great as they were in for example Munro v Brown, and I assess solatium at £15,000. Most of the damage has already been done and I order that interest at the rate of eight per cent per annum should run on £10,000 of that award from 10 April 2011 when the material was first published. Finally, I should say that there was an issue as to whether the offending material should have been placed in the report at all. It seems to me that in light of the contents of number 6/7 of process, the letter dated 4 February 2004 from Mr McNab, it was a matter which the pursuer was duty bound to investigate. Had he ignored it and had the matter come to light at a later stage, he would have been open to criticism. Even if there was no such duty and the inclusion of the material was a matter for the pursuer's discretion, I cannot hold that the manner in which he exercised that discretion was unreasonable or unwarranted.”
Lord Mathews decision stated : “I shall sustain the first, third and in part the fourth pleas in law for the pursuer, repel the first and in part the second pleas in law for the defender and I shall grant decree for interdict in terms of the first conclusion and for payment by the defender to the pursuer of the sum of £15,000 sterling with interest on £10,000 thereof at the rate of eight per centum per annum from 10 April 2011 until payment. The case will be put out By Order on the question of expenses.”
The full opinion of Lord Mathews in the case can be read online here : OUTER HOUSE, COURT OF SESSION  CSOH 126 A189/11 OPINION OF LORD MATTHEWS in the cause R A H Pursuer; against M H Defender or on the Scottish Court Service website HERE
Questions have since been raised as to why the solicitor’s initials were only published in the Court’s decision, rather than his full name. The solicitor’s firm of Hastings & Co, The Square Kelso, was also omitted from the Court’s published decision, with the firm’s initials only appearing as H & Co in Kelso.
No explanation for the apparent attempt at removing key information on the solicitor’s identity and his practice in Kelso from the public domain has been offered at this time by the Scottish Court Service.
The Herald Newspaper, who identified the solicitor as Ronald Hastings of Kelso, and publish his picture, reports :
Victoria Weldon Reporter
A SOLICITOR has been awarded £15,000 in damages after being subjected to a smear campaign that falsely claimed he was a malicious liar.
Ronald Hastings, 53, was awarded the sum, plus expenses, after a man involved in one of his cases handed out about 100 fliers in the town where he worked, claiming he knowingly supplied false information to the court.
The lawyer, who runs his own estate agents and law firm, Hastings & Co, in Kelso in the Scottish Borders, told the Court of Session in Edinburgh that the claims damaged his reputation and forced him to take time off work due to stress.
He also claimed he became demotivated and developed family problems.
Court documents submitted on behalf of Mr Hastings said: "The Pursuer has suffered injury to his feelings, standing and professional reputation as a result of the distribution by the defender of the false and defamatory statements.
"The statements caused and continue to cause distress. The pursuer's estate agency business is well know in the Scottish Borders. The Pursuer's name is that of the business. His reputation is important to the business."
The dispute between Mr Hastings and the man – who cannot be named for legal reasons –began when the solicitor was instructed to compile a report in a divorce case at Jedburgh Sheriff Court.
It involved him reporting on the circumstances of the grandchildren of the man involved.
The grandfather was unhappy with the report as it contained certain claims against him and his contact with the children, which were later found to be inaccurate.
He then began posting leaflets to homes and businesses in Kelso, rubbishing Mr Hastings's name.
The fliers stated: "WARNING! Ron Hastings, solicitor and estate agent, IS A LIAR. When acting as a court reporter, he knowingly supplied false, and in my opinion MALICIOUS information to a Sherriff's [sic] Court Report, that was put into the public domain.
"Under Scottish Law, this is a very serious offence, yet the Legal System has done NOTHING about it. WHY?
"IS THIS SCOTTISH JUSTICE? SHAME ON YOU Mr Hastings!
"WHAT PART OF THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?"
The defender restated his case in court, claiming that the solicitor had deliberately included false information about him in the report.
However, Judge Lord Matthews accepted that it was an "innocent error", which was later flagged up to the court, and awarded in favour of Mr Hastings.
In a written judgment on the case, Lord Matthews said: "I am unable to find it proved that the pursuer told a deliberate lie.
"In the first place there is simply no reason for him to have done so. He had, on the evidence which I accept, never met the defender before."
The judge added: "The sting in the handbills is that the pursuer maliciously lied to the court in the course of carrying out his duty as a court reporter. The defender has failed to prove that is true and accordingly I find for the pursuer."
Mr Hastings asked the court to award £150,000 in damages, but Lord Matthews deemed that he was only entitled to £15,000.
The judge also granted a perpetual court order banning the grandfather from making any further claims against Mr Hastings.
He said: "The contents of the handbill are, in my opinion, vitriolic. It seems to me to be quite probable that if the defender is not prevented from doing so, he will continue to wage a campaign of sorts against the pursuer and accordingly I am prepared to pronounce a perpetual interdict."
Mr Hastings did not respond to calls from The Herald.