Calls to revamp “unacceptable” Solicitors Act costs provisions

Mallalieu: Act does not even define what a bill is

Leading figures in the costs world yesterday called for an overhaul of the billing and assessment provisions in the Solicitors Act 1974, with one saying it was “not fit for purpose”.

The views echo those of the Senior Costs Judge, Andrew Gordon-Saker, who made similar comments earlier in the summer.

Speaking at the Costs Law Reports Conference in London, Roger Mallalieu of 4 New Square said the Act was out of date and “not fit for purpose anymore”.

Noting that the provisions go back “hundreds of years”, he said the Act did not even define what a bill of costs actually was, or say what needed to be in it.

“It is unacceptable in a modern profession that it is regulated this way,” he argued, comments that former Senior Courts Costs Office master Colin Campbell, chairing the conference, said he agreed with.

Mr Mallalieu was speaking about solicitor-client costs disputes, which he predicted were likely to become more common.

“The legal principles haven’t changed but scrutiny seems to be increasing. As is often the way in costs, we are seeing change driven by the low-value personal injury market.”

But while the Act was unacceptable, there was no excuse for solicitors not to be aware of its provisions, he added.

“There is less and less excuse for not giving good costs information at the outset and updating it, and for not getting approval of unusual items of costs, particularly where you’ve got budgeting.”

Speaking at a Civil Justice Council event in June, Master Gordon-Saker said it “now may be the time to review the Solicitors Act 1974 and in particular part III, which deals with remuneration”.

He explained: “We could have a simpler system for deciding whether a client is entitled to challenge a bill, sweep away the byzantine distinctions between final and interim bills, and have addressed the position of third parties who are liable to pay bills but have effectively lost their right to challenge those bills following the decision in Tim Martin v Akin Gump.”

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