23 January 2018Print This Post

High Court: Only solicitors can “determine terms and content” of their demands for payment

Soole J: undelivered bill of costs cannot be treated as delivered

Solicitors are the only ones who can determine the terms and content of their demands for payment, the High Court has ruled.

Mr Justice Soole rejected the argument that a claimant was entitled to treat a bill as having been delivered and subject to assessment under the Solicitors Act 1974.

Soole J said the Court of Appeal’s 2014 decision in Kingstons v Reiss made it clear that a document is not a bill of costs unless it is “sent by the solicitor to the client as a demand or claim of the sum therein stated to be due” – a ruling which was not confined to its particular facts.

“It must follow that it is only the solicitor who can determine the content and terms of what is his demand or claim for payment. Neither the client nor the court can make that determination on his behalf.

“Both in consequence of this principle and as a matter of construction, the court’s power under section 68 [of the Solicitors Act] to order a solicitor to deliver a bill of costs does not entitle the court to order (nor therefore the client to seek) delivery of a specific identified document and thereby to determine the terms and content of the solicitor’s demand or claim for payment.

“It is for the solicitor to provide ‘a bill’ of his costs; and for the process of assessment to deal with any challenge thereto. The prohibition against withdrawal of a delivered bill without consent or court order provides further protection for the client.”

The court heard in Parvez v Mooney Everett Solicitors [2018] EWHC 62 (QB) that the claimant, Annie Parvez, argued that a ‘statute bill’ for £1,505.25 was delivered to her by her former solicitors, Liverpool firm Mooney Everett.

The “alleged bill of costs” was for professional services rendered under a conditional fee agreement following a road traffic accident.

The court heard that Ms Parvez’s claim was settled with third-party insurers at £2,100 and in June 2016, Mooney Everett sent her a letter to say that, after deduction of a success fee of £525 and ATE premium of £164.25, she would receive the balance of £1,410.75. The law firm sent her a cheque for this amount the following month.

However, Ms Parvez instructed a new firm of solicitors in August 2016, JG Solicitors, who asked Mooney Everett to send its file. The file contained a document headed ‘bill of costs’ and dated 28 June 2016, which totalled over £1,505, but had not been supplied to Ms Parvez or referred to.

JG requested a ‘statute bill’ to be sent to them, since deductions had been made from Ms Parvez’s damages. The bill sent totalled over £6,400, triggering a dispute between the two law firms and an application to assess the June ‘statute bill’.

A district judge ruled that the alleged bill had not been delivered and could not be the subject of assessment.

Ms Parvez appealed, arguing that the June bill “was capable of being a statute bill upon delivery”, that under the Solicitors Accounts Rules Mooney Everett was under a duty to deliver it and that if a bill of this kind came “into the possession of the client, the client may elect to treat it as having been delivered”.

Rejecting these arguments, Soole J said: “The client can be in no better position if the relevant document has come into his possession otherwise than in the character of a delivered bill of costs.

“There is no principled basis to treat it differently from a document which remains in the possession of the solicitors.

“It is unnecessary to determine whether or not there was a breach of the Solicitors Accounts Rules. Even if there was, this does not entitle the client to treat an undelivered bill of costs as if it had been delivered.

“To do so would again allow the client to determine the terms and content of the solicitor’s demand or claim for payment.”

He dismissed the appeal.

By Nick Hilborne

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