The Court of Appeal recently handed down Judgment (Gempride -v- Jagrit Bamrah and Lawlords of London Limited ) 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:
- the bill contained incorrect hourly rates; and
- 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.