Make sure your costs budgets, statements of costs and bills of costs are prepared correctly!

The Court of Appeal recently handed down Judgment (Gempride -v- Jagrit Bamrah and Lawlords of London Limited [2018]) in a case which involved alleged misconduct in detailed assessment proceedings.

The underlying claim related to a claim by Ms Bamrah against Gempride for personal injuries. The claim settled by way of CPR 36 on 18 March 2013 for £50,000.00. Ms Bamrah initially dealt with the claim through her own law firm (Falcon Legal) before the claim was transferred to David Stinson & Co.

The case dates back to 2014 where Master Leonard in the Senior Courts Costs Office struck out Part 1 of the Claimant’s bill of costs (insofar as the costs exceeded the fixed hourly rate recoverable by litigants-in-person) due to mis-certification, on the basis that:

  1. the bill contained incorrect hourly rates; and
  2. mis-leading information in relation to Before-the-Event (BTE) insurance was provided in the Replies to Points of Dispute.

The Claimant successfully appealed that decision before His Honour Judge Mitchell in the Central London County Court. One of the most notable reasons for the reversal of the decision was that the judge found that the Claimant was not responsible for the acts and omissions of the costs consultants that were instructed (Lawlords of London Limited).

The Defendant (Gempride) appealed and was successful before the Court of Appeal. In respect of the instruction of Lawlords of London Limited, and the very important point about a Solicitor not being responsible for the acts of omissions of an agent, Lord Justice Hickinbottom said:

At a time when new business practices mean that solicitors are more frequently subcontracting work out to the unauthorised, it seems to me to be an important matter of principle that solicitors on the record – and other authorised litigators and ‘legal representatives’ for the purposes of the CPR – understand that they remain ultimately responsible for the acts and omissions of those to whom they delegate parts of the conduct of litigation, particularly where those to whom such work is delegated are not authorised… it is only in that way that the supervisory jurisdiction of the court can be effectively maintained…”

“The reverse side of that coin is that, because the solicitor has responsibility for the conduct of those to whom he subcontracts work for which he as a solicitor has been retained, then he is able to charge for that work at an appropriate rate as profit costs (together with any success fee uplift under a CFA) and not simply as a disbursement.”

In respect of the bill of costs the Court of Appeal felt that there should be a penalty for the mis-certification, but that Master Leonard’s penalty was too severe; they disallowed 50% of Part 1 of the bill of costs. The Court did emphasise that the Claimant’s conduct in attempting to claim hourly rates which exceeded those in the retainer was not, in its judgment, dishonest. However, it found that on the best interpretation the Claimant had believed that as she was essentially acting for herself (albeit under the umbrella of Falcon Legal) and was entitled to modify the retainer “at will”, that this was fundamentally wrong, and that such conduct was “unreasonable or improper” to a level that could justify a sanction.

This is a very important decision for Solicitors who instruct costs lawyers and other costs professionals. It is fundamentally important that costs budgets, statements of costs and bills of costs are prepared correctly and the hourly rates claimed do not breach the indemnity principle – the Solicitor has the overall responsibility to make sure the costs document is correct as they certify it. It is also important to make sure that information in Points of Dispute and Replies to Points of Dispute is accurate. Failure to do so can result in costs penalties, but more importantly, allegations of misconduct and associated legal reporting which would be damaging for any law firms’ or legal costs firms’ reputation.

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay, who is a Partner and the Head of the Costs & Litigation Funding team at Clarion. Andrew can be contacted on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.McAulay@clarionsolicitors.com.

 

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When a CFA describes the claim rather than the work it covers

The recent Court of Appeal decision of Malone v Birmingham Community NHS Trust [2018] EWCA Civ 1376 reinforced the importance of a clearly drafted funding document.

The case involved a prisoner at HMP Birmingham who pursued a claim for failure to diagnose testicular cancer between August 2010 and January 2011. The prison was operated by the Ministry of Justice, and health care services were provided by Birmingham Community NHS Trust, and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust.

The Claimant initially instructed Ross Aldridge Solicitors, who had difficulty in identifying the correct Defendant, and in March 2012 the Claimant transferred instructions to New Law Solicitors. They, too, encountered uncertainty when trying to identify the correct negligent Defendant.

The Claimant entered into a CFA with New Law Solicitors on 16 January 2013, which stated that the agreement covered “All work conducted on your behalf following your instructions provided on [sic] regarding your claim against Home Office for damages for personal injury suffered in 2010.”

On 04 October 2013, after proceedings were issued but yet to be served, Birmingham Community NHS Trust admitted responsibility for the Claimant’s treatment, and on 20 March 2014 damages were agreed in the sum of £10,000 plus costs.

A detailed assessment of costs commenced, and the Defendant challenged the enforceability of the CFA on the basis that it was limited to a claim against the Home Office/Ministry of Justice only. DJ Phillips, regional costs judge for Walker, found on 27 April 2015 that the CFA excluded a claim against the Defendant and therefore costs were not recoverable under the agreement as the Claimant had no contractual liability to pay his Solicitor for the work done in suing the Defendant.

The Claimant applied for permission to appeal, which was initially dismissed by HHJ Curman QC in a judgment dated 25 September 2015, but was later granted by Brigg LJ by way of order dated 28 July 2017.

On appeal, Patten LJ and Hamblen LJ considered whether the critical wording of the CFA (highlighted in bold above) merely identified the claim to which it related, or whether it limited the scope of the CFA to a claim against the Home Office only. It was necessary to consider the principles established in paragraphs 11-13 of Wood v Capita Insurance Services [2017] UKSC 24 to ascertain whether a textual analysis of the agreement was required or whether greater emphasis should be given to the factual matrix (contextualism).

[A textual analysis is typically used for agreements that have been negotiated and prepared with the assistance of skilled professionals. Alternatively, consideration of a factual matrix can also lead to the correct interpretation of an agreement, particularly if a contract had been made without skilled input].

Hamblen LJ stated that the “insertions made to the CFA demonstrate it as poor quality drafting and little attention to detail. The critical wording consists of only one sentence and yet it contains three manifest mistakes: (i) the omission of the date of the instructions and (ii) the omission of the definite article before “Home Office” and (iii) the description of the claim being against “Home Office”. The Home Office had not been responsible for operating prisons for some years”. The poor drafting led to a greater emphasis being placed on the factual matrix of the agreement rather than a close textual analysis.

Hamblen LJ considered the most natural reading of the critical wording as being a CFA that covered “all work conducted” on the Claimant’s behalf following “instructions provided” in respect of his claim “against Home Office” and he concluded that the wording was descriptive of the instructions received rather than of the work to be done. Further, he suggested that if the CFA had meant to provide only a limited coverage, greater care and precision would have been expected, but that in any event it would have been in neither party’s interest to seek to impose a strict definitional limit on the agreement so early in the claim.

Therefore, taking into account both textualism and contextualism, it was found that the CFA was not limited to a claim against the Home Office/Ministry of Justice only and the Claimants appeal was allowed.

Whilst in this case the judgment goes in favour of the receiving party, it highlights the importance of giving careful consideration to exactly what a retainer provides for, both at the outset and during the life of a claim, to ensure there are no pitfalls on assessment. It is crucial that time is invested into the creation of a retainer at the outset of a matter, and that it is regularly reviewed throughout the life of a case.

If you have any questions or queries in relation this blog please contact Joanne Chase (joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.

The Hourly Rate Debate: the effect of costs management on hourly rates

There has recently been a flurry of case law in respect of the effect of costs management on hourly rates at detailed assessment.

With regard to costs management, there are two rules of central importance, both contained within Practice Direction 3E:-

Para 7.3 provides that “The court’s approval will relate only to the total figures for budgeted costs of each phase of the proceedings, although in the course of its review the court may have regard to the constituent elements of each total figure. When reviewing budgeted costs, the court will not undertake a detailed assessment in advance, but rather will consider whether the budgeted costs fall within the range of reasonable and proportionate costs.”

CPR PD 3E (7.10), which states that It is not the role of the Court in the costs management hearing to fix or approve the hourly rates claimed… the underlying detail… is provided for reference purposes only”.

As to Detailed assessment, the relevant rule is Part 44.3(1), which provides that:-

Regardless of the basis upon which costs are assessed “…the court will not in either case allow costs which have been unreasonably incurred or are unreasonable in amount”.

The starting point is the judgment in Harrison -v- University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust [2017] EWCA Civ 792, which held that where there is an approved budget, the court is empowered to sanction a departure from the budget if it considers that there is good reason to do so. What the judgment did not say is that the figure allowed for a particular phase in a costs management order will be allowed unless there is good reason to depart from it. The distinction is subtle, but important.

Following a month later, the judgment in RNB -v- London Borough of Newham [2017] EWHC B15 (Costs) gave guidance on how the Court would approach hourly rates in the context of a costs management order. In RNB it was held that if hourly rates were reduced on assessment, that reduction would apply to all of the costs claimed, whether they were incurred pre- or post- the costs management order.

In Bains -v- Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, 18th August 2017, The County Court at Birmingham (Unreported), District Judge Lumb expressly disagreed with the position in RNB and found that “to reduce hourly rates for budgeted costs to the same levels as those allowed for the incurred costs… would be to second guess the thought process of Costs Managing Judge and would impute a risk of double jeopardy...”

In the absence of a report or transcript, we do not know what reasoning underpinned the judge’s finding in Bains. What is clear is that a central assumption to the finding in Bains was that the judge at costs management may have accounted for a reduction to hourly rates when making the costs management order. It could be said that such an assumption would be tantamount to a finding that the judge at costs management had breached CPR PD 3E (7.10), by in effect setting the hourly rates when making the costs management order. It might well be argued that such an assumption was unreasonable.

Furthermore, the judgment in Bains explicitly states that there is a risk of double jeopardy; in other words, that the judge on assessment may have considered a reduction to hourly rates when making the costs management order. At least on a standard basis assessment, CPR 44.3(2)(b), any doubt as to whether the court on costs management had done so should be resolved in favour of the paying party. Thus in the absence of an explicit finding that the judge on costs management had factored in a reduction to the hourly rates, the court on assessment should assume that they did not.

A little later, in Nash -v- Ministry of Defence [2018] EW Misc B4 (CC), Master Nagalingam of the Senior Courts Costs Office held that a reduction to hourly rates in respect of the incurred costs would not be a ‘good reason’ to depart from the budget for future costs. This has led to some litigants arguing that where there is a Costs Management Order, so long as the party is within budget for the given phase, a reduction to hourly rates will not ‘carry through’ to the future costs in the budget. It is important to recognise that, in Nash, the receiving party’s budget had been agreed.

The central question here is whether or not a reduction to hourly rates is a ‘departure’ from the costs management order. As stated above, hourly rates are not to be fixed or set by the court on costs management. Therefore, if the hourly rates do not form a part of the costs management order, a reduction to hourly rates for ‘future’ costs cannot be said to be a departure from it. By analogy, an additional liability (such as an ATE premium, which is recoverable in Clinical Negligence matters) does not form a part of the budget, and therefore a reduction to such a premium does not constitute a departure.

It is also important to note that CPR PD 3E 7.3 provides that the purpose of costs management is for the court to identify a range of costs which it considers to be reasonable and proportionate for the conduct of the claim. However, the fact that a costs management order has been made does not justify a party incurring costs which are individually unreasonable so long as they fall within budget. In the context of hourly rates, therefore, if it is found that an hourly rate of say £450 per hour is unreasonable, then that hourly rate is unreasonable regardless of whether the work was done before or after the costs management order was made.

Some commentators have argued that the judgments in Bains and Nash are an attempt by the Courts to implement the intention of Jackson LJ to remove the need for detailed assessment. Returning to Harrison, Davis LJ commented that the case had “descended into a kind of arms race in collecting views or comments… with an aim of… extracting some kind of clue as to what [had been] intended…” when the rules were drafted. Importantly he went on to comment “this is beside the point… what we have to do is construe the wording of [the CPR]”. It is quite clear that, in the judgment of the Court of Appeal, it is not the function of the Court to decide what the intention behind the rules was, but only to interpret what the Rules mean and how they apply to the facts.

The difficulty faced by litigators and judges at present is that the rules are unclear, and there is little guidance as to how they should be implemented. This results in a lack of clarity and certainty when proceeding to assessment of costs. In my opinion, there are two potential routes by which the rules might be improved:-

  1. The detailed approach

The Precedent H is amended to remove reference to hourly rates and time. There could then be no question of the assessing judge taking hourly rates into account. As the court cannot set the hourly rates in any event, this should have no practical impact upon the making of costs management orders; the judge on costs management will have a feel for the case and will be fully qualified to consider the work which needs to be done in each phase and make a judgment as to the amount of costs which it would be reasonable and proportionate to incur in doing it.

  1. The summary approach

The court is empowered to set rates at costs management, and also to make a judgment in relation to incurred costs. Under this system, the judge would summarily consider the costs already incurred in the litigation and include within the costs management order what each party will be allowed at the conclusion in respect of the costs already incurred. The court will set a limit for future costs, and the successful party is entitled at the conclusion of the litigation to the amount allowed by the court in respect of incurred costs, plus all amounts incurred after the costs management order so long as they are less than the budget.

The first approach would continue to provide for a detailed assessment at the conclusion of the proceedings, the second approach would not. Of course, the problem with the second approach is that it could give rise to unfairness as parties would not be able to deal with their opponents’ costs in detail.

What is clear is that under the current rules, there is significant doubt over how they should be interpreted, and we will have to wait and see whether this doubt will be rectified by the rules or by binding judgments in the courts.

Matthew Rose is a Solicitor in the Costs and Litigation Funding department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at matthew.rose@clarionsolicitors.com, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.

INDEMNITY COSTS FOLLOWING DISCONTINUANCE OF PROCEEDINGS

CPR 38.3 provides that a Claimant may discontinue a claim by filing and serving a Notice of Discontinuance on the other parties. Under CPR 38.6(1) it states the following:

“Unless the court orders otherwise, a Claimant who discontinues is liable for the costs which a Defendant against whom the Claimant discontinues incurred on or before the date on which the Notice of Discontinuance was served…”.

Under CPR 44.9(1), such an order is a deemed order for costs and the basis of assessment is the standard basis.

The case of Two Right Feet Limited (in liquidation) -v- National Westminster Bank PLC and others is a case where the Claimant discontinued proceedings against the Defendants and the Defendants made an application for costs to be awarded on the indemnity basis due to the following issues:

  1. failure to engage pre-action;
  2. improper and unjustified allegations;
  3. an exaggerated claim;
  4. a case which was speculative (both in facts and law);
  5. a claim which was brought without proper investigation;
  6. concerns as to the approach to disclosure; and
  7. delayed discontinuance, other delays and more minor points.

Background

On 3 March 2015, the Claimant commenced proceedings against the Defendants.  In the claim form, the Claimant alleged that the Defendants were liable for deceit and conspiracy.  The claim was first notified to the First and Second Defendants on 9 June 2015 and the claim form was served on 3 July 2015. The amounts claimed amounted to £20 million. The claims were strenuously denied by the Defendants.  On 7 October 2016 there was a case management conference where directions were set and the case was transferred into the Mercantile Court.  Disclosure followed in January 2017, but on 22 February 2017 the Claimant discontinued its claim. 

Indemnity Basis Costs Order

The Judgment provides very useful information for any party considering an application for an indemnity basis costs order as it cites the leading authorities (paragraph 36 is very useful to read in this regard).

The Judge concluded that an order for indemnity costs was appropriate and determined that the way in which the case had been advanced by the Claimant (and conducted) carried the case out of the norm, which is of course an important consideration for any court when deciding whether to award indemnity costs.

The case also highlights the importance of the receiving party (Defendants in this case) making an application. Notice of Discontinuance creates a deemed order for costs on the standard basis. Should a receiving party feel that they are entitled to indemnity basis costs then they should seek agreement with the paying party (Claimant in this case) or make an application to Court. A receiving party should not leave the matter for detailed assessment – the detailed assessment hearing is a forum to determine the quantum of costs, not to determine the basis of assessment.

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding team.  He can be contacted on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com

 

Getting your orders right – Fixed Costs

The introduction of fixed costs was expected to create certainty in the amount which parties would recover at the conclusion of a claim. However the rules as drafted leave numerous lacunas and gaps which parties can exploit, which in turn has lead to satellite litigation. This is not what the drafters of the rules intended and is often not in the interest of the parties, as it leads to additional further cost which, in many cases and given the already low amount of costs recoverable, can be disproportionate.

In order to avoid this risk it is important that practitioners ensure that terms of settlement make proper provision for costs to avoid the risk of further litigation. This is a complex topic, and this is intended as a quick reference guide to help you to avoid the pitfalls so that you do not fall into the ‘fixed costs trap’.

  1. Claims which leave the portal

Pursuant to the Protocols, a claim will leave the portal if it is revalued in an amount higher than the protocol limit (currently £25,000). However, CPR 45.29A states that fixed costs apply where the claim was started in the protocol. Of critical importance is to note that the mere fact that the claim was revalued at more than the protocol limit does not mean that standard basis costs apply. Practitioners should be wary of this when settling such claims and should either:

  1. Settle only on terms that standard basis (not fixed) costs apply. Therefore CPR 36 should be avoided; or
  2. Refuse to settle until after allocation of the claim to the multi-track, as allocation to the multi-track causes fixed costs to cease to apply (see Qadar v Esure)

Whilst it may seem extreme to refuse settlement until allocation, this is at present the only way to ensure (so much as it is ever possible to ensure) that fixed costs will not apply. It should be borne in mind that such an approach is a calculated risk, as it is possible that a court would find that such conduct is ‘unreasonable’ should the matter proceed. That said, it should be possible to argue that without agreement fixed costs would apply and that the claimant is therefore better off and as such the conduct was not unreasonable.

  1. Settlement by CPR 36.20

Where fixed costs do apply and the claim is settled by part 36, there is no right to detailed assessment. If a dispute arises over fixed costs then one of the parties must apply.

  1. Non-Part 36 settlement

It is generally preferable to seek to agree the amount of fixed costs which apply. Failure to do so can lead to disputes (and costly applications) over the correct level of fixed costs and ‘reasonable’ disbursements. It is currently unclear whether the costs of such applications are recoverable. Including a provision in a settlement agreement should be straightforward, as the costs are fixed. If an opponent refuses to do so it may be that they intend to raise technical arguments about the costs which are recoverable.

Claimants should note that defendants are aware of these argument and therefore may try to catch out the unwary.

This is a very quick summary of the issues surrounding settlement in cases to which fixed costs apply, however with the imminent introduction of fixed costs in cases of noise induced hearing loss slated for 2019 at the latest and he likely introduction of fixed costs in all cases in around 2020, these issues will only become more relevant. On current information, the proposed rules for NIHL claims do not fix any of the existing issues with fixed costs and therefore we can expect these problems to persist for some time.

Matthew Rose is a Solicitor in the Costs and Litigation Funding department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at matthew.rose@clarionsolicitors.com, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.

Make sure you prepare a Risk Assessment!

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) was a piece of legislation which introduced a number of very important changes to civil litigation costs and funding.

One of those changes was the abolition of the recovery of additional liabilities inter partes for retainers created on or after 1 April 2013 (save for some limited exemptions). This meant that additional liabilities were to be paid by clients, and on personal injury matters, it was foreseen (and currently happens in practice) that they would be deducted from the client’s damages. Additional liabilities are therefore now a solicitor/own client expense.

The case of Herbert -v- HH Law Limited is a case that any law firm conducting personal injury litigation (and deducting additional liabilities from clients’ damages) should read. The case relates to an Appeal by the Defendant Solicitors (“HH”) of decisions made by District Judge Bellamy at Sheffield County Court in April and June 2017. The decisions on Appeal were:

  1. The reduction of a success fee from 100% to 15%;
  2. Approval of a cash account in terms which treated the payment of an ATE Insurance Premium as a solicitor’s disbursement; and
  3. Ordering HH to pay the costs of the assessment and refusing to inquire further into HH’s contention that the retainer of the Claimant’s new solicitors (JG Solicitors Limited) was illegal and/or unenforceable.

The appeal was heard on 21 March 2018 before Mr Justice Soole at Sheffield High Court, where he dismissed all 3 grounds.

Key Points

  1. A Risk Assessment should always be prepared in respect of any Conditional Fee Agreement. The LASPO reforms have not resulted in risk assessments no longer being required (a point unsuccessfully argued by HH). A Risk Assessment is a very important document that goes to the heart of the calculation of the success fee. It is a key document for the Court to consider in any solicitor/own client dispute over the level of a success fee charged. It is important that law firms do not take a ‘blanket’ approach to success fees. Law firms should calculate success fees individually on each case, taking into account the specific facts and risks.

    In this case, the success fee was claimed at 100%, but by virtue of the LASPO reforms was subject to a maximum cap of 25% of the total amount of general damages for pain, suffering, loss of amenity and damages for past financial loss. The Appeal Judge endorsed the success fee allowed by District Judge Bellamy, which was based on the findings that the facts of the case were straightforward, the nature of the injury was minor soft tissue damage and whiplash, there was no time off work and it was likely that the case would be settled for a modest amount in a short period of time.

    The Appeal Judge stated: 

    in the circumstances of this particular case, allowing for the fact that the modest disbursements were funded by the solicitors for a fairly short period, the appropriate success fee was 15%……”.

    This case therefore represents a useful guide as to what the success fee should be on straightforward and low value personal injury work.

  2. An ATE insurance premium should be treated as a solicitor’s disbursement and should therefore be included in any final invoice to a client and in any solicitor/own client bill/breakdown of costs.

    In this case, the Defendant did not treat the ATE premium accordingly and therefore failed to properly include it within the final invoice. The result of this was that when District Judge Bellamy considered and approved the cash account, it left a balance of £349.00, which was ordered to be refunded to the Claimant (despite the Defendant actually paying the sum to the insurer!).

The Appeal Judge said the following:

“if the solicitor fails to include the item in the delivered bill of costs, he has to bear the consequence; subject to an application for leave to withdraw the bill and deliver a fresh bill”.

Summary

It is therefore very important for any firms which conduct litigation work under Conditional Fee Agreements (with the support of ATE insurance) to ensure that Risk Assessments are properly prepared for each case and that ATE insurance premiums are included in final invoices to clients.

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay, who is a Partner and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding Team at Clarion. He can be contacted on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com.

Latest statistics show 50% annual increase in orders made under the Mental Capacity Act [2005].

The Family Court statistics bulletin relating to the final quarter of 2017 has been published, providing an overview and insight into the data relating to Court of Protection applications and orders for the year.

The latest report published by the Ministry of Justice show that the number of orders made under the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) continued to rise significantly in the last year, with a staggering 38,945 orders being made in 2017. This is an increase of almost 50% on the number of orders made in 2016. It is noted, however, that much of this increase can be attributed to the clearance of a number of preexisting and outstanding cases during the first quarter of 2017.

Around 40% of the orders made under the MCA in 2017 related to the appointment of a Deputy for property and financial affairs, continuing the consistent increase since 2009. Please see the below table for a complete breakdown of all orders made under the MCA in 2017.

 

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The upward trend relating to numbers of Deprivation of Liberty (DoLS) applications also continued in 2017. There were 3,995 DoLS applications made throughout the year, a 27% increase on 2016, showing the continued increase in awareness of DoLS and the increased impetus to have deprivations authorised. The numbers of DoLS orders made in 2017 also rose by 81%, which (when compared with the 27% increase in applications) evidences the delay between application and order.

There was a continued increase in the numbers of Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) received in 2017; LPAs received rose by 28% between 2016 and 2017, with over 180,000 LPAs being registered in the final quarter of the year alone. This increase is a continuation of the upward trend seen since 2015, likely due to the ease of online forms and increased publicity and media coverage of Powers of Attorney. The long-term downward trend relating to the number of Enduring Powers of Attorney (EPAs) continued, with a 7% annual decrease in EPAs received in 2017.

The full report can be found here.

If you have any questions about the above, please feel free to contact Ethan Bradley at ethan.bradley@clarionsolicitors.com.