Kerry Underwood

SOLICITORS’ BILLS: NO CLIENT RIGHT OF ASSESSMENT OF A BILL NOT FORMALLY DELIVERED

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In Parvez v Mooney Everett Solicitors Ltd [2018] EWHC 62 (QB)

the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court upheld a District Judge’s decision dismissing a claim by Parvez against her former solicitors  Mooney Everett for assessment under section 70 of the Solicitors Act 1974.

On 11 May 2018 a Single Judge of the Court of Appeal refused the lay client permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal here.

The document in question, which the client maintained was a bill, as it was headed “bill of costs” had been included in a file of papers sent to her new solicitors JG.

It had not previously been provided to her or referred to in correspondence and, applying

Kingstons Solicitors v. Reiss Solicitors [2014] EWCA Civ 172

the District Judge held that it was not a statute bill, as it had not been delivered, and, therefore, could not be the subject of assessment.

It was an internal document placed on the file, but never intended to be sent to the client.

 

On appeal the client argued that:

  • once delivered, the bill was a statute bill;

 

  • under the Solicitors Account Rules, the solicitors should have delivered it; and

 

  • where the solicitor had failed to do so, and the bill had otherwise come into the client’s possession, the client could elect to treat it as delivered.

 

Mr. Justice Soole, a full High Court Judge whose ruling is binding on all County Courts and the Senior Court Costs Office, rejected those arguments.

A client was not entitled to treat the bill as having been delivered, and it did not constitute a bill of costs.

 

Kingstons Solicitors v. Reiss Solicitors established that a document will be not be a bill of costs unless sent by the solicitor as a demand or claim of the sum therein stated to be due. Only the solicitor, and not the client or court, can determine the terms and content of the solicitor’s demand or claim for payment.

The court’s power under section 68 of the Solicitors Act 1974 to order a solicitor to deliver a bill of costs does not entitle the court to order, nor the client to seek, delivery of a specific identified document and thus to determine the terms and content of the solicitor’s claim for payment.

Even a breach of the Solicitors Accounts Rules would not entitle a client to treat an undelivered bill of costs as though it had been delivered, as that would enable the client to determine the terms and content of the claim for payment.

 

In refusing permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal the Single Judge gave the following reasons:

 

  1. The judge was right to hold that in order to be a “bill” the document in question must be sent as a demand for payment. A “bill” must have the same meaning in both s 69 and s 70. In addition the natural inference to be drawn from s 70 is that it permits challenges to bills that have been delivered in accordance with s 69.

 

  1. Whether or not the “August bill” was a bill, does not alter the fact that the “June bill” was not for the reasons given by the judge in relation to ground 1. The judge was right in his application of Kingstons Solicitors v. Reiss.

 

  1. The Defendants were not benefitting from their own wrong (as the judge correctly held at [60] last sentence). In those circumstances he was not bound to decide whether or not there was a breach of rule 17.2 (and I note that in any event whether there was a breach is disputed). Even if there had been such a breach, that does not turn an undelivered bill into a delivered one.

 

  1. The solicitors did determine the contents of the bill: it was the “August bill”. The Act does not permit the client to select a different document as amounting to the statute bill.

 

  1. An appeal would have no real prospect of success.
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Written by kerryunderwood

June 14, 2018 at 10:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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