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Vlamaki v Sookias & Sookias [2015] EWHC 3334 (QB) (20 November 2015)

Or, when is a bill not a bill?

In this far reaching decision on private retainers the Court found that, where there was no clear contractual provision within the retainer for the delivery of interim statute bills, and no explanation to the lay client as to what impact the delivery of interim statute bills had upon her statutory rights to seek assessment, Master Campbell found at first instance that the bills delivered, which had all the appearance of statute bills,  were no more than "on account" bills, and that the client's right to assessment ran from the date of the last of them, the solicitors having later confirmed that they did not intend to raise any further charges.

On Appeal brought by the Defendants before Mr.Justice Walker, sitting with Master Haworth as assessor, the Master's decision on the status of the bills was upheld. Mr.Justice Walker went further however, and found that as pursuant to the contract the bills should be construed as "on account" bills, the later confirmation that there was nothing more to charge did not and could not have the effect of converting them into one aggregated statute bill. In essence it was found that no bill had yet been delivered, and that time under s.70 Solicitors Act to seek an assessment had not yet began to run.

Full details of the judgment can be found on Bailii by clicking this link.

This is an important decision for clients seeking to dispute their own solicitors fees, because the vast majority of retainers do not provide for an unambiguous contractual right to deliver interim bills, and those that do, in my experience, fail to give a full explanation of what rights the client is potentially waiving by agreeing to such terms.

Louise Spurdle
Costs Budgets to be filed at an earlier stage - do...


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