A judge has refused to hand over historic case documents to a former client claiming to be overcharged by a law firm in the latest blow to costs recovery claims.
Master Leonard said the application for files amounted to asking the court to order pre-action disclosure in relation to a case that settled three years before.
The case is another in a growing number of judgments where the court has denied access to historic documents to help a client who suspects they have been overcharged.
The former client in Riaz v Ashwood Solicitors Ltd, RTA victim Mohammed Riaz, had sought records in the possession of Manchester firm Ashwood Solicitors, including copies VAT invoices for costs and disbursements, all correspondence between them and any ATE documents. The parties differed on how much the claim was worth: lawyers for Riaz indicated his claim was settled for £3,700 and he received £1,950 after deductions; the firm said the claim was settled at £2,600, of which £650 was deducted.
Riaz said he had not retained any of the correspondence sent to him by the firm during the currency of its retainer, a claim which Master Leonard described as ‘inconsistent’.
The judge said Riaz had been in a position to know how much he paid his solicitors in 2014, and if he could not accurately recall the position it would be because he had not kept relevant records.
The claimant said he had been refused the documents needed to establish the extent of any overcharging, and in turn the firm had put its interests ahead of the client and was in breach of its fiduciary duty.
But Leonard stressed that the evidence did not show that an unlawful success fee had been charged, and the court was being asked to go beyond its remit so the claimant’s advisers could investigate if overcharging had happened. He added: ‘There is no evidence, certainly not of the clear-cut kind that would be needed, of any conduct on the part of a solicitor that might make it appropriate for the court to exercise its inherent jurisdiction.
‘[The claimant] has not identified either a fiduciary duty, which obliges a solicitor to supply to a client copies of documents which do not belong to the client, or a breach of any other fiduciary duty.’
The claimant was represented by Mark Carlisle, instructed by JG Solicitors Ltd. Paul Parker, instructed by Ashwood Solicitors Ltd, acted for the defendant.