Summary Ralph Hume Garry v Gwillim 2002 EWCA Civ 1500

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Ralph Hume Garry (a firm) v Gwillim 2002 EWCA Civ 1500

The Facts

The firm acted in a partnership dissolution dispute and rendered 23 bills to the client, who was himself an experienced solicitor. The client paid some of the bills, but failed to pay others, and the firm sued him for the unpaid fees.

At first instance, the client applied shortly before trial to strike out the claim against him on the basis that most of the bills did not bona fide comply with section 64 of the Solicitors Act 1974, as they failed to disclose sufficient details of what he was being asked to pay for.

The application at first instance in the Queens Bench division was dismissed, as it was found that the evidence showed the firm had a real prospect of establishing that the client had sufficient information about the fees and charges referred to in the bills. The client appealed.

The Decision

The judgment contains a lengthy discussion by Ward LJ of the statutory history and the development of the case law with respect to the requirements for solicitors’ bills, including Keene v Ward [1849] EngR 1210, Cook v Gillard (1852) 1 E & B 26, Haigh v Ousey (1857) 7 El. & Bl. 578 119 EngRep and Re a Solicitor: In Re a taxation of costs [1955] 2 Q.B. 252.

The Court of Appeal reaffirmed the requirement in a bill for legal costs for the client to have sufficient information to decide whether to seek taxation, and held that the proper principle to be that there must be something in the written bill to indicate the ambit of the work, but that inadequacies of description of the work done may be redressed by accompanying documents. The adequacy of a bill is not to be considered on the face of the bill alone, and exactness of form is not required. The knowledge of the client is also central in determining whether a bill is adequate. The Court of Appeal held that in order to show the firm’s bill has not bona fide complied with the Solicitors Act 1974, the client must show that there is no sufficient narrative to identify what he is being charged for and also that he does not have sufficient knowledge to take advice on whether or not to apply for taxation.

Quote:

“The sufficiency of the narrative and the sufficiency of his knowledge will vary from case to case, and the more he knows, the less the bill may need to spell it out for him. The interests of justice require that the balance be struck between protection of the client’s right to seek taxation and of the solicitor’s right to recover not being defeated by opportunistic resort to technicality.”

The Court of Appeal held that in this case each bill was obviously and latterly expressly for professional charges, and identified the matter and the periods of time they applied to. Therefore, the claim should not be struck out as the issue of adequacy of the bills (together with the client’s knowledge) was a triable matter and the appeal had to be dismissed.

This case highlights the principles that a bill must contain sufficient information to receive advice about taxation, the client’s knowledge is central to this question, exactness of form of a bill is not required and the onus is on the client to show they have not been provided with or have sufficient information to obtain advice.

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