“You could have said sorry”, says judge to firm that dropped criticism of opposing solicitor

Thailand: Dispute over status of law firm’s office

The High Court has expressed dismay that Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) did not receive an apology from the solicitors on the other side of a dispute for their “implied criticism” of the City law firm’s conduct which they then abruptly dropped.

Triple Point Technology, Inc v PTT Public Company Ltd [2018] EWHC 45 (TCC) involved a dispute over the performance and termination of a contract for a commodity trading and risk management system where the defendant was based in Thailand.

Mr Justice Jefford gave judgment for the defendant, awarding it over $4m for its counterclaim.

PTT sought an interim payment on account of costs of £2.1m, the amount of its approved costs budget, although it said it had actually incurred nearly £500,000 more.

Ahead of a hearing, the claimant (TPT) argued through its solicitors, Kobre & Kim, that the judge could not be satisfied as to what amount would be recoverable by PTT.

This was because it suggested that WFW’s Thailand business, which was responsible for some of the costs, may not be a regulated law practice; thus it could not conduct litigation in England and Wales and its costs could not be recovered.

On the other hand, it argued, if WFW Thailand was acting as agent for the English regulated entity, its costs could not be recovered as disbursements because the work it was doing could have been, and would normally have been, carried out by English solicitors.

The defendant responded by confirming that WFW Thailand was registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and complied with the SRA Overseas Rules 2013; WFW was not a regulated entity but was authorised, in accordance with the 2013 rules, to conduct reserved legal activities and employed regulated individuals (ie English solicitors).

Jefford J said: “That did not satisfy TPT who continued to pursue the issue at the hearing and, to my mind, derailed the hearing to a considerable extent in doing so.

“TPT maintained at the hearing that there was no insinuation of improper conduct on the part of Watson, Farley & Williams and that they, TPT, were entitled to ask questions about the costs bill.

“It seems to me that once [the defendant’s counsel] had explained the position and his explanation was not accepted, there was inevitably such an insinuation, despite TPT’s assertion to the contrary.”

He had not expressed a view on the merits of TPT’s argument when, a week after the hearing, Kobre & Kim sent a “brief” e-mail dropping the issue.

Jefford J said: “It seems to me unfortunate that there was no recognition of the disruption that this issue had caused and no apology to Watson Farley & Williams for the implicit criticism of them.”

He ordered that TPT pay £2.1m on account of costs.