21 June 2016Print This Post

High Court: law firm’s claims for unpaid fees were “largely dishonest”

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Judge: biggest claim was “false as regards the majority of fees charged”

The High Court has described a law firm’s claims for unpaid fees as “largely dishonest” and dismissed them as “wholly without merit”.

However, Alpha Rocks Solicitors (ARS), based in south London, hit back, saying the decision of Murray Rosen QC “grossly undermines equity and justice”. It intends to appeal.

Mr Rosen, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, said Alpha Rocks “appeared to demonstrate a high level of ineptitude”.

He went on: “Much of its argument might be described as perverse, naïve or even preposterous.

“But it is important not to conflate or confuse such characteristics with dishonesty and fraud, nor to let the deficiencies in ARS’ records and personnel, and the conduct and presentation of its case, detract or divert from, or obscure or cloud, a measured or objective legal analysis…

“However, after five days of trial… I must conclude that many of its shortcomings in dealing with and for [former client Benjamin] Alade were not the result of negligence or eccentricity, however gross”

Rather, he said, in particular in relation to the law firm’s two biggest claims against Mr Alade, an 89-year-old retired barrister, the bills were “variously false… in the most basic ways”.

These were a claim for £131,500 for fees and disbursements said to have been incurred in defending a county court action in the ‘Rufus’ matter, and a claim for fees and disbursements of over £21,500 for a Land Registry claim in the ‘Catherine’ matter.

Delivering judgment in Alpha Rocks Solicitors v Alade (HC13 D00617), Mr Rosen ruled that the Catherine claim was “false” and the Rufus claim was “false as regards a majority of the fees charged”.

Mr Rosen dismissed a further claim for £15,170 “said to have been agreed” for a freezing order in the Rufus matter since it was based on an “alleged agreement for which there is no proper factual or legal basis”.

He said a fourth claim of £3,500, referred to as the ‘landlord matter’, failed entirely on liability.

The judge concluded that many of the shortcomings of Alpha Rocks in its dealings with Mr Alade could only have resulted from a “dishonest plan to charge for sums to which it knew it was not entitled on the basis claimed, or was at least reckless as to the same”.

He ruled that the law firm’s claims were “largely dishonest” and dismissed them as “wholly without merit”. Mr Rosen gave judgment for Mr Alade’s counterclaim against Alpha Rocks for £65,370 plus interest.

The Court of Appeal ruled this time last year that the High Court had been wrong to strike out the claims made by Alpha Rocks on the grounds of exaggeration and inaccuracy, because the then judge, Kevin Prosser QC, had not sought to hear oral evidence before reaching his conclusion.

In a statement, Alpha Rocks said: “We are extremely disappointed with the judgment delivered by Mr Murray Rosen QC, which does not reflect the standard of service we give our clients or indeed the commitment and passion with which members of staff carry out their functions.

“The decision grossly undermines equity and justice as it suggests that a client can avoid paying for professional fees rendered. More so when the outcome of his instructions to us was successful and that evidence was proffered at court.

“We would point out that was a rare incident involving one out of our many clients and the work as well as the claim against the client was initiated by former partners who have since left the firm.

“An earlier decision was in fact successfully overturned by the Court of Appeal in our favour and we can confirm that we are appealing this current decision.”

By Nick Hilborne

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