Gill v Heer Manak Solicitors, Court of Appeal - Queen's Bench Division, October 30, 2018, [2018] EWHC 2881 (QB)

Resolution Date:October 30, 2018
Issuing Organization:Queen's Bench Division
Actores:Gill v Heer Manak Solicitors
 
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Case No: QB/2017/0249

Neutral Citation Number: [2018] EWHC 2881 (QB)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

On appeal from the order of Master Brown

in the Senior Costs Office 29 September 2017

giving effect to the judgment of Master Simons delivered on 27.1.2017

Case No: CC 164222

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 30/10/2018

Before:

MR JUSTICE WALKER

(sitting with assessor, Master Haworth)

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Between:

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Mr Robin Dunne (instructed by Deep Blue Costs) for the claimant (appellant)

Mr Andrew McGee (instructed by Maya and Co Solicitors) for the defendant (respondent)

Hearing date: 14 March 2018

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JudgmentMr Justice Walker:

  1. Introduction and overview

    1. This appeal is brought following the grant of permission by me on 7 December 2017. In form it is an appeal against paragraph 1(i) of an order of Master Brown in the Supreme Court Costs Office dated 29 September 2017. However, in that part of his order Master Brown was recording the resolution by Master Simons of preliminary points argued before Master Simons on 27 January 2017.

    2. In his oral judgment that day Master Simons explained that the claimant below (now the appellant), Mr Manjit Gill, instructed the defendant below (now the respondent), a Coventry law firm known as Heer Manak Solicitors (``the firm''), to work on his behalf in litigation between himself, among others, and HM Commissioners of Revenue and Customs (``HMRC''). The firm employed, among others, Mr Shusheel Gill. In order to avoid confusion I shall refer to each of them by using both first name and surname.

    3. Agreed terms between Mr Manjit Gill and the firm were set out in a client care letter (``the retainer'') dated 7 June 2013. However on or shortly after 27 December 2013, just over four months before the scheduled date of trial, Mr Manjit Gill was informed that the firm was closing down or had closed down. He was also informed that the reason for this was that the firm had been unable to secure a competitive rate of professional indemnity insurance which would be economically viable.

    4. Eventually Mr Manjit Gill received a letter dated 4 February 2014 from another Coventry law firm, Lexton Law Solicitors (``Lexton''). Lexton's letter said that his file had initially been transferred to Messrs Guildhall Solicitors of Foleshill, Coventry, but that ``a change in circumstances'' had led to the file now being transferred to them. The letter added that Mr Shusheel Gill had on 3 February commenced employment with them, ``so the continuity of your file will be unaffected''.

    5. The relevant part of the order under appeal stated that:

    6. The claimant's preliminary points heard at the hearing before Master Simons were resolved as follows:

      (i) the defendant was entitled to terminate the retainer as a result of the closure of the solicitors practice on 27 December 2013.

    7. This ``preliminary point'' was one of three that were dealt with by Master Simons on 27 January 2017. What had happened was that, in accordance with the retainer, the firm had requested and received payments on account for charges and expenses to be incurred as the matter progressed. More than three years after closure of the practice, the firm made a claim for amounts over and above those which had been paid on account. The third of the preliminary points concerned whether this claim was barred by estoppel. Master Simons concluded that it was not. There is no appeal against that conclusion.

    8. As to the preliminary point now under appeal, questions arose as to whether the firm had good reason for termination of the retainer, and if so whether it had given reasonable notice of termination of the retainer. Master Simons answered both these questions in favour of the firm. His answer to the first question is not now challenged. The only question under appeal is whether he was right to conclude that reasonable notice had been given.

    9. The appeal before me was argued by counsel who had appeared below, Mr Robin Dunne for Mr Manjit Gill and Mr Andrew McGee for the firm.

  2. The Background Facts

    B1 The litigation

    1. The litigation involving HMRC which was the subject of the retainer concerned a worldwide freezing order obtained by HMRC on 13 May 2013. There were six defendants to HMRC's claim. HMRC alleged that the first, second and third defendants had unpaid tax liabilities. There was no allegation of that kind against Mr Manjjt Gill, who was the sixth defendant. What was said against him was that transfers to him of properties by the first to third defendants were made in order to put those properties beyond the reach of HMRC.

    2. The freezing order was put into effect against all Mr Manjit Gill's personal and business bank accounts. At that time, and throughout the period of the retainer, Mr Manjit Gill was on a course of full time tertiary education. His evidence was that the freezing of all his personal and business accounts had a potentially catastrophic effect. The value of the assets frozen was approximately £672,000. He states that he knew he needed expert and specialist legal representation.

    3. Mr Manjit Gill records that a case management hearing was held on 20...

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