SOLICITOR’S BILL OF COSTS STRUCK OUT BECAUSE CLAIM WAS EXAGGERATED AND (IN PART) FALSE

In Alpha Rocks Solicitors -v- Alade [2014] EWHC 3606 (Ch) Kevin Prosser Q.C., sitting as a judge of the High Court, struck out part of the solicitor’s bill as an abuse of process. The case makes instructive reading.  It involved a claim brought by the  solicitors for their own costs against the defendant who was their former client.

NB. Note that this decision was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal see the Court of Appeal decision here.

THE CASE

The claimant solicitors had issued proceedings for £171,708.85 arising out of several pieces of litigation conducted on behalf of the defendant. The claimant applied summary judgment and the court made an order for an interim payment of £131.514.56. The defendant did not pay that sum. There were issues with the bills of costs.

  • Some were unsigned.
  • There was no proof of delivery.

A Master ordered that the claimant serve statutory bills with a view to detailed assessment.  The claimant applied to set aside that order on the grounds that statutory bills had already been served.

THE DEFENDANT’S ARGUMENTS

The defendant argued that:

  • Statutory bills had not been served when proceedings were issued.
  • The action should be struck out as an abuse of process on the grounds that the invoices were of recent creation; the bills of costs were deliberately exaggerated and the bill falsely stated that leading counsel had been paid in full when he had not been so paid.

THE JUDGE’S FINDINGS: SOME OF THE DOCUMENTS WERE UNTRUE

The judge described some of the claimant’s solicitors as “odd”. A six page bill of costs supposedly sent with a letter dated 16th 2012 January referred, explicitly, to post 16th January events. Consequently it was clear that the work had not been concluded by the 16th January  and the claimant was not in a position to issue an invoice.

The judge found that it was an inevitable conclusion that the letter and bill of costs, and the witness statement served by the claimant asserting that these documents had been served on the defendant, were untrue.

DELIBERATE EXAGGERATION OF FEES

The judge found that the fees were exaggerated.

  • He rejected arguments that the claimant had prepared trial bundles for the litigation. He regarded an argument that “parallel bundles” had been prepared as “wholly unconvincing”.
  • He regarded some of the evidence put forward by the claimant as untrue.
  • There was a claim for 115 hours spent on trial bundles. The judge found that this claim was false.
  • “I cannot avoid the conclusion that the exaggeration is deliberate”.

A second bill of costs was also inaccurate.

  • The claimant’s own evidence showed the bill of costs to be wholly inaccurate.
  • Further when the bill of costs was drawn up it was drawn up by someone who knew it was inaccurate.
  • By way of example the claimant had been put in funds to pay leading counsel’s fees. The bill claimed those fees had been paid. In fact the had only been paid in part.

STRIKING OUT FOR ABUSE OF PROCESS

The judge struck out two of the claimant’s bills. One on the grounds that it was exaggerated; the other on the grounds that it was drawn up relying upon fabricated documents and in the knowledge that it was inaccurate.

He found he had power to strike out the bills.

  • Both involved a serious misuse of the court’s procedure.
  • They rendered future proceedings thoroughly unsatisfactory.
  • A fair trial of the claims would be impossible.
  • It would be unfair on the defendant to subject him to a detailed assessment of the claims

Certain other claims, which were the subject of different issues in relation to the defendant’s liability,were not struck out.

9 comments

  1. Should the solicitors not be reported to the SRA? It seems to me that they have been found by a judge to have lied, presumably having signed a statement of truth.

  2. This case has been appealed. Permission has been granted and stay of execution has been granted by the Court of Appeal. The firm will be pursuing the substantive appeal. Please update your record.

    1. Many thanks for you information on that. I don’t have a “record”. What (apart from your useful information) needs to be “updated”?

      1. enquiries@alpharocksolicitors.co.uk · ·

         Dear Sir, Please find attached update on the above case.

        Kind Regards,

        Alpha Rocks Solicitors

        8 Arlington Parade Brixton Hill London SW2 1RH

        DX 132676 Brixton 2

        Tel: 020 7737 0017 Fax: 020 7733 0434 Web: http://www.alpharocksolicitors.couk

        This email is sent on behalf of Alpha Rocks Solicitors. We are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (No: 563947) and a list of members is available for inspection at our registered office, 8 Arlington Parade, Brixton Hill, London, SW2 1RH. CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE This message (including any attachments) is intended only for the use of the addressee(s) and may contain information that is privileged and confidential. If you are the intended recipient, further disclosures are prohibited without proper authorisation. If you are not the intended recipient or an authorised representative of the intended recipient, the use, dissemination or reproduction of this communication is prohibited.  If you have received this communication in error, please destroy all copies of the message and its attachments and notify the sender immediately. Alpha Rocks Solicitors hereby claim legal and all applicable privileges related to this information.

  3. Simeon Coker · · Reply

    Please supply your email contact so that a copy of the judgment can be sent to you.

  4. GExall@zenithchambers.co.uk. There was no attachment to the e-mail you sent to the comment section. Many thanks.

  5. The judgment is on Lawtel.

    On a tedious point of order, Mr Chairman, I don’t think it was the bills which were struck out: the claims on those bills were struck out, not the bills themselves.

  6. Thanks for the clarification Tim. I have also read the judgement several times, and I cannot find a justification for the claim being struck out. I am therefore not surprised that the court of appeal gave permission to appeal.

  7. I can find plenty of reasons in the judgment for the striking out. Mr Coker will be able to clarify whether permission to appeal was granted by Kevin Prosser or by the Court of Appeal. Perhaps Alpha Rocks are appealing on the basis that that the Deputy Judge should have refrained from making findings of dishonesty without hearing oral evidence from the relevant witnesses.

    Maybe Alpha Rocks (or Teacher Stern Selby) will send Gordon a copy of (or post a link to) Alpha Rocks’ grounds of appeal and skeleton argument.

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