A solicitor deprived of half her profit costs through a Court of Appeal judgment has said she is readying a challenge to the ruling. Appeal court judges ruled in Gempride Ltd v Bamrah & Anor this month that Kent sole practitioner Jagjit Bamrah, who was also the claimant, and her firm Falcon Legal, should be liable for the actions and submissions of their costs draftsmen.
Bamrah was found not to have acted dishonestly, but the court ruled that her conduct in certifying an inflated costs bill was 'unreasonable and improper', and she ought to have realised that errors in her bill had not been set out to the defendant. Lord Justice Hickinbottom said Bamrah had shown ‘essential recklessness’ by signing off the inaccurate bill and her acceptance of the defendant’s costs offer was ‘incapable of any sensible explanation’.
The judge said: ‘It seems to me to be an important matter of principle that solicitors on the record – and other authorised litigators and ‘legal representatives’ for the purposes of the [civil procedure rules] – understand that they remain ultimately responsible for the acts and omissions of those to whom they delegate parts of the conduct of litigation.’
Bamrah, admitted in 1999, told the Gazette that she will pursue action against her costs consultants and apply for permission to appeal in the Supreme Court.
She said: ‘The Court of Appeal has held me liable for shortcomings in the conduct of costs draftsmen instructed by me to deal with the relevant detailed assessment proceedings, and upon whom I relied. As a result of advice from my legal advisers that I have valid grounds for appealing, and that this case raises points of law, and of practice and principle, which are points of general public importance, especially to the solicitors’ profession, costs lawyers, and costs draftsmen.’
Bamrah had brought her own claim following an accident in July 2008 and eventually settled for £50,000 damages in April 2013, on the basis the defendant would pay her costs. She had entered a conditional fee arrangement with Falcon Legal which lasted until August 2012, before the claim was transferred to another firm.
Costs covering the period when Falcon Legal was instructed came to around £136,000, of which £50,000 plus VAT represented profit costs. The firm’s charging rate was initially said to be £232 per hour for a case where the prospects of success were assessed at 80%.
But the hourly rate was increased to £280 per hour after claims about the defendant’s unreasonable behavior and the type of evidence required.
At first instance, Master Leonard found that Bamrah had certified a misleading bill of costs on the most favourable interpretation of her actions where the hourly rate was ‘adjustable at will’. He disallowed the claimed profit costs beyond the fixed hourly rate recoverable by litigants in person.
Bamrah said she was misled by her costs draftsmen and had relied on their expertise and advice. Her appeal was heard over 13 days, with Judge Mitchell finding she was not responsible for the acts and omissions of her costs draftsmen, who failed to act in accordance with her instructions and indeed acted contrary to them.
Nicholas Bacon QC and Katie Scott (instructed by Taylor Rose TWKW Limited) appeared for Gempride. Kulip Singh QC and Suzanne Rab (instructed by RadcliffesLeBrasseur) appeared for Bamrah.