Kerry Underwood

SOLICITORS DENIED LIEN; THE RYANAIR CASE

with 2 comments


The matters dealt with in this piece are examined in great detail in my three volume, 1,300 page book Personal Injury Small Claims, Portals and Fixed Costs – price £50 and available from Underwoods Solicitors here.

Kerry Underwood offers consultancy services in relation to this and other matters and details are here.

In

Bott & Co Solicitors Ltd v Ryanair DAC [2019] EWCA Civ 143 (12 February 2019)

the Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court’s decision that Ryanair was entitled to respond directly to passengers seeking compensation through solicitors, and had no liability to pay solicitors who had assisted in the claims.

Since the High Court ruling the Supreme Court had given judgment in

Gavin Edmondson Solicitors Ltd v Haven Insurance Co Ltd [2018] UKSC 21 .

The High Court Judge here had been bound by

Meguerditchian v Lightbound [1917] 2 KB 298

to hold that mere negotiation by a solicitor resulting in recovery for a client could not give rise to a lien, but rather there had to be some form of proceedings, litigation or arbitration, but in Gavin Edmondson the Supreme Court had said that the fact that that no proceedings had been issued was not fatal to the equitable right of the solicitor.

Here the Court of Appeal said that the distinction between cases with or without proceedings could not survive the decision of the Supreme Court in Gavin Edmondson, and the boundary had shifted.

The key to fixing the boundary was to examine why equity will recognise a solicitor’s right to be paid and the courts had stated that access to justice lay behind the development of the principle.

Here, the Court of Appeal said that although formal proceedings were no longer necessary, the solicitor’s services must still be recognisable as litigation services, promoting access to justice.

This would include conducting litigation or contemplate litigation and would encompass proceedings under various protocols, such as the portal process as in Gavin Edmondson.

However, the Court of Appeal found that the flight compensation claim scheme was largely mechanical and formulaic and did not constitute litigation services required to promote access to justice.

The Court of Appeal held that passengers are entitled to use third parties to assist with their claim, but must go to the Ryanair claims process in the first instance.

In Gavin Edmondsonthe Supreme Court said:

“58. It is simply wrong in my view to seek to distil from those cases a general principle that equity will protect solicitors from any unconscionable interference with their expectations in relation to recovery of their charges.”

Here the Court of Appeal quoted from the Supreme Court’s decision at Paragraph 1 setting out the basis of the court’s recognition of a solicitor’s lien:

“It is a judge-made remedy, motivated not by any fondness for solicitors as fellow lawyers or even as officers of the court, but rather because it promotes access to justice. Specifically it enables solicitors to offer litigation services on credit to clients who, although they have a meritorious case, lack the financial resources to pay up front for its pursuit. It is called a solicitor’s lien because solicitors used to have a virtual monopoly on the pursuit of litigation in the higher courts. Nothing in this judgment should be read as deciding whether the relaxation of that monopoly means that the lien is still limited only to solicitors.”

Although this is an equitable remedy, the Court of Appeal considered that the statutory definitions of litigation captured the essence of the principle underpinning the right to a lien.

The court quoted section 119 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 which defines “litigation services” as

“any services which it would be reasonable to expect a person who is exercising, or contemplating exercising, a right to conduct litigation in relation to any proceedings, or any contemplated proceedings, to provide.”

In section 87 of the Solicitors Act 1974, “contentious business” is defined as:

“business done … in or for the purposes of proceedings begun before a court or arbitrator”.

The Court of Appeal said that this would include proceedings under one of the many protocols that now exist, as well, potentially, in Alternative Dispute Resolution, and the court made the point that ADR by definition only comes into play when there is a dispute to resolve.

Here, the Court of Appeal said that unless and until Ryanair refuses a claim, there is no dispute.

In

Gaynor v Central West London Buses Ltd. [2006] EWCA Civ 1120

Dyson LJ said at [17]:

“In my judgment, “contemplated proceedings” are proceedings of which it can be said that there is at least a real likelihood that they will be issued. Until the potential defendant disputes the claim, it is not possible to say that proceedings are contemplated. Advising a client as to whether he or she has a good prima facie case and writing a letter of claim are not enough to amount to litigation services.”

The Court of Appeal here went onto say:

“58. The making of a claim under Regulation 261 is largely mechanical and formulaic. It requires little more than the flight distance and the length of the delay, in addition to details of the ticket purchase. The amount of compensation that a delayed passenger is entitled to receive is fixed by the Regulation. It is not a case in which the quantum of damages has to be evaluated. Bott’s evidence is that the “vast majority” of claims do not require the issue of court proceedings; and it claims a 99 per cent success rate. I do not consider that the services provided by Bott in processing that vast majority can be said either to be “litigation services” of the kind that Lord Briggs must have had in mind; or to be required in order to promote access to justice, unless and until Ryanair disputes a claim. In addition, to recognise the existence of an equitable right would place a solicitor in a far more privileged position than a claims handler performing the same services. I cannot see any justification for that; especially since the rationale for the equitable right is not motivated by any fondness for solicitors. If a claim is disputed, different considerations will arise.

59. In my judgment, therefore, where Bott simply writes a letter of claim or assists a client to complete the on-line form, and the claim is paid in response to the letter or the form, it is not entitled to an interest in the compensation that equity will protect. I would reject this ground of appeal.”

Comment

The Senior Judiciary need to think through rather more carefully the whole issue of access to justice and litigation and how it may be delivered.

At one level, lawyers are being encouraged to use portals and follow protocols and do everything to avoid litigation, and yet Bott & Co Solicitors Limited appear to be being punished for using such a scheme, and for making significant profits from it.

What on earth is the relevance to the legal principles of the fact that Bott’s income from claims against Ryanair was over £100,000 a month? (see Paragraph 16 of the judgment).

What is the relevance of the number of claims that Bott were handling, except to show the success of the scheme and the attraction to members of the public?

So, at one level, we are consistently urged to be efficient and be a business, with the provision of legal services opened up to every Tom Dick and Harry, but when a firm does exactly that they are punished by the courts by being refused a lien.

I can see no logical difference between the pre-action road traffic portal, where 99% of cases are settled, and the scheme operated by Bott & Co Solicitors Limited.

This decision should be overturned by the Supreme Court.

I deal with the decision of the High Court and the Supreme Court in my blogs –

COURT REFUSES TO GRANT SOLICITOR LIEN FOR COSTS ; and

SOLICITORS’ LIENS, RETAINERS, CFA LITE AND UNCONSCIONABLE CONDUCT – THE HAVEN INSURANCE COMPANY CASE

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Written by kerryunderwood

February 15, 2019 at 8:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. In the circumstances the judgement seems perfectly reasonable and encourages those to do for themselves in the first instance or at least fund their own costs. Advancing a claim should not open a defending party to costs from the applicant until such a time that either the claim or part thereof is either denied, refused or avoided by either lack of response or untimely response, where significant delay to consider claims can reasonably be demonstrated to be commercial avoidance, without these events it can never be considered reasonable to expect that the law will support avoidable costs.

    wayne elliott

    February 19, 2019 at 9:00 am

    • You have completely misunderstood the judgment and the issue in this case, which was about Liens, and not third party costs liability.

      Kerry

      kerryunderwood

      February 19, 2019 at 10:03 am


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