Bilkus v Stockler Brunton (a firm), Court of Appeal - Supreme Court Cost Office, November 11, 2008, [2008] EWHC 90118 (Costs)

Resolution Date:November 11, 2008
Issuing Organization:Supreme Court Cost Office
Actores:Bilkus v Stockler Brunton (a firm)

Neutral Citation Number: [2008] EWHC 90118 (Costs)Case No: AGS/0803217IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICESUPREME COURT COSTS OFFICEClifford's Inn, Fetter LaneLondon, EC4A 1DQDate: 11 November 2008Before :MASTER GORDON-SAKER- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Between :- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Mr Tim Chelmick (instructed by HC Solicitors LLP ) for the ClaimantMr Nicholas Bacon (instructed by Stockler Brunton) for the DefendantsHearing date: 24th September 2008- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -JudgmentMaster Gordon-Saker : 1. On 17th March 2008 Master Bowles ordered that there be a detailed assessment of the Defendants' invoice number 26233/7602 dated 3rd September 2004, such assessment being limited to the sum of £50,000 described on the bill as ``Uplift on all bills since April 2001''.2. The questions which now arise on the detailed assessment are whether the Defendants were entitled to make that charge and whether the amount is reasonable.The background3. The Defendants are a firm of solicitors practising from offices in Cursitor Street. In 2001 the Claimant instructed them to act on his behalf in relation to a dispute over his entitlement to shares in a company called Clearsprings (Management) Limited (``Clearsprings''). The terms of that retainer were set out in a letter from the Defendants, then known as Stockler Charity, to the Claimant dated 25th January 2001. Under the heading ``Fees'' Mr Stockler, a partner in the defendant firm, wrote:Our charges will be calculated mainly by reference to the time spent by me, the other solicitors and executive staff dealing with this matter. This includes advising, attending on you and others, dealing with papers, correspondence, telephone calls, travelling and waiting time. These rates do not include VAT, which will be added to the bill.As a partner my charging rate is £250.00 per hour. The charging rate for an Assistant Solicitor is £205.00 per hour. If any work is undertaken by a Legal Assistant, this will be charged at £150.00 per hour. In addition, we will charge all disbursements incurred on your behalf to include internal photocopying, telephone/facsimile charges, local fares and courier charges. The charging rates that I have quoted are reviewed annually, and therefore if this matter has not been concluded before the next review takes place, they will be subject to an increase. I shall let you know the new rates on the next review which will apply to work done from that date.In matters such as this it is not possible to accurately estimate how many hours of work will be necessary to complete the matter. My firm therefore adopts a policy of charging for each hour (or part thereof).4. It is common ground that there was no other correspondence between the parties setting out the terms on which the Defendants were retained.5. In May 2001 the Claimant, through the Defendants, commenced proceedings against the then sole shareholder in Clearsprings, Mr King, for an order for specific performance of an agreement between them that they should each own 50% of the issued shares. Those proceedings were resolved in favour of the Claimant in November 2001 and a share in the company was issued to him.6. In January 2002 the Claimant, again acting through the Defendants, commenced a second action against Mr King, under section 459 of the Companies Act 1985. On 15th August 2003 Mr Registrar Baister made an order that Mr King and Clearsprings were jointly and severally liable to purchase the Claimant's share at a price and on terms to be determined. On 29th October 2003 Lawrence Collins J. (as he then was) gave directions that the share was to be valued by a valuer appointed by the Court (acting as expert and not as arbitrator) and that the share should be purchased at the value certified within 21 days of receipt of the valuation.7. The minute of that order was drafted by counsel but was the subject of some representations to the learned Judge. On 4th November 2003 Lawrence Collins J. sent a memorandum to counsel:There should not be an express liberty to apply. This is a final order, and the extent to which either party may make any further application should be left to the general rules.8. The Defendants continued to act for the Claimant in relation to the valuation of the share and in relation to the detailed assessment of the costs of the proceedings.9. The work done in relation to the valuation included the instruction of Grant Thornton to prepare detailed written submissions to the valuer and the instruction of counsel, principally to advise in relation to the agreements which underlay Clearsprings' business. In the event, by a letter dated 4th August 2004 the valuer valued the Claimant's share at £6,600,000. That was considered to be a very good result for the Claimant.10. The Defendants sent bills to the Claimant fairly regularly between 2001 and 2004 - initially monthly but subsequently less frequently. It seems to me that all of these bills were interim statute bills; that is, that they are final self-contained bills for the periods that they cover. Save for the last, all of the profit costs are charged by reference to hourly rates in accordance with the letter dated 25th January 2001, although the rates increase as time passes.11. It is only part of the last bill which is...

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