12-08-2013

Webb v Solicitors Regulation Authority [2013] All ER (D) 50 (Aug)

the solicitor was brought before the SDT facing allegations of dishonesty and was found guilty of professional misconduct in that regard. He was ordered to be struck off the Roll. An order for costs was also made against him in the sum of £28000 not to be enforced without leave of the Court. He appealed. On appeal he was unsuccessful in respect of the order for strike off. The SRA applied for a costs order against the Solicitor in the sum of £28000. The court heard evidence as to the means of the solicitor and received a written statement as regards the same. The court summarily assessed the costs in the sum of £20,000 and made an order in that sum, such order not to be enforced without leave of the court. The SRA then sought an order for costs in respect of the Appeal in the sum of £22,000. The appellant did not challenge an order for costs being made against him, it was however submitted that the amount of costs should be less and that any order should not be enforced without leave of the High Court. Both parties invited the court to summarily assess the costs and determine the issue of costs on the basis of written submissions.

It was conceded by the appellant that the principle that the losing party should bear the costs of that appeal should apply. However, it was submitted that the instant proceedings were not ordinary civil proceedings but were ones brought by a professional regulator for the purposes of maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the profession. In those circumstances, unlike ordinary civil proceedings, it was submitted that when considering the form of any order for costs, the means of the unsuccessful solicitor should be taken into account.

2) New Practice Direction by the SRA for Solicitors- how to handle complaints by clients more effectively and ensure they are satisfied with regard to the resolution of issues efficiently.

 

There are two competing considerations- the first is the burden placed on the profession as a whole if the SRA as the profession’s regulator is not able to seek to recover the costs of such proceedings in cases such as these. The second is that it cannot be right for an impecunious solicitor to be pursued in respect of significant sums in costs where they clearly do not have the means to pay. Such was the case here. The solicitor had effectively no income and had lost his right to earn a living as a solicitor. He had funded the costs himself defending the proceedings and had exhausted his assets. He was living in rented accommodation with his partner who had also lost her livelihood having worked for the same firm as he. At the age of 62 there were limited employment prospects for both.

Accordingly, it was found that the SRA would be no worse off if an order be made assessing costs summarily in the sum of £20,00 with the caveat that such an order were not be enforced without the leave of the court. It was also noted that it is always appropriate for the SRA to make due enquiry and test the evidence produced by the Solicitor in any given case produced by way of evidence of means.