Andrew Erlam -v- Richard Slade & Company Plc : Court Orders delivery of a Statute Bill
We reported in November on the outcome of this case here and are pleased to now be able to publish the approved transcript of the full judgment.
In a long running saga in relation to the costs of a legal case that has its own wikipedia entry District Judge Batchelor sitting in the High Court in Sheffield found that bills totalling just under £237,000 delivered by Richard Slade & Company to our client, Andy Erlam, were not compliant with the technical requirements of the Solicitors Act and the case law that has grown up surrounding it, and that new bills should be delivered so that Mr.Erlam can, if so advised, ask the Court to assess them under the provisions of the Solicitors Act.
The decision reinforces two important principles in respect of the billing of legal fees. Firstly, that if a solicitor intends his or her bills to be final to the extent that the time for challenging them under the Solicitors Act 1974 begins from the delivery of each individual bill, then that must be made plain to the client at the outset. This is an established principle - considered most recently on appeal in the case of Vlamaki -v- Sookias and Sookias  EWHC 3334 - often overlooked by solicitors.
The terms and conditions do not tell the client that when the defendants say they deliver an interim statute bill, to be treated as a final bill, the client's time for challenge runs from the date the invoice is served. There is simply no explanation in these terms and conditions as to what rights a claimant is giving up. The defendant's complaints procedure also appears within the terms and conditions at A.27. It includes complaints about costs. It is exhausted after 28 days. By the time that process is exhausted, the client may only have two days to request a Solicitors Act assessment and that is not made clear to the client.District Judge Batchelor, paragraph 33
Secondly, whether or not there is an entitlement to deliver "interim statute bills", the client must be in a position to understand the bills and take advice as to whether or not to challenge them. If that does not happen, the "bill" is not a bill for the purposes of the Solicitors Act and time to challenge it does not start to run.
The bills require minute analysis beyond what would be reasonably expected of a lay client, in my view.District Judge Batchelor, paragraph 43
The onus is on the solicitor sending out the invoice to ensure that the client has sufficient information, provided in a comprehensive and comprehendible manner, so as to fully appreciate what the invoice relates to and that simply did not happen in this case.District Judge Batchelor, paragraph 45