Claimant lawyers in a judicial review immigration case have been criticised for progressing ‘diffuse and frankly confusing’ arguments and for charging their clients ‘grossly excessive’ fees.

Prince Vijaykumar Bhatt and Dharini Vijaykumar Bhatt v Secretary of State for the Home Department concerned two Indian nationals who were unlawfully detained and had their immigration applications mishandled. The claims included damages for the unlawful detention and damages for breaches of article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

But Helen Mountfield QC, sitting as a High Court deputy judge, dismissed the claim saying there was ‘no proper basis’ to claim for judicial review, and that it was ‘inappropriate to bring a private law claim for relief within an application for judicial review in respect of a different public decision’.

Mountfield said that the claim for damages for unlawful imprisonment would be within the limitations of a private law claim.

She described the skeleton argument as ‘diffuse and difficult to follow’, and said that claims for breaches of law under the ECHR were not ‘properly pleaded’.

She also said allegations of breaches of immigration law were ‘not pleaded with anything like the specificity required’.

Addressing the issue of costs, Mountfield said that although she did not strictly need to consider the claimants’ costs as the claim was dismissed, that ‘in fairness’ to the clients she ought to say that the costs, ‘which presumably is the sum they are charged on a solicitor client basis [were] grossly excessive’.

She added that: ‘It is four or five times more than I commonly see in cases of the equivalent nature which have been well prepared by excellent and efficient advocates. As pointed out in the defendant’s skeleton argument, the claimants' lawyers have not begun to plead the case properly or to comply with the practice directions as to what should be included in a claim.’

Meanwhile the judgment showed that the defendant failed to reply to a pre-action protocol for judicial review, seriously delayed lodging evidence and then filed its ground for resistance 35 days late as a result of an oversight, which the judge described as being ‘not a very convincing excuse’.

Because of these circumstances Mountfield said it would take some ‘compelling factor’ to persuade her to make a cost order. The postscript says that in this case no cost order was made.

Solicitor-advocate Adam Tear, who was instructed by Duncan Lewis Solicitors, represented the claimants. John McKendrick, from Outer Temple Chambers, represented the defendants on behalf of the Government Legal Department.

A spokesperson from Duncan Lewis said: ‘For our clients, we are naturally very disappointed with the judgment; especially in light of the apology issued by the Home Office in open court and admission to false imprisonment acknowledging the distress and humiliation caused to them.

‘This complex case spanned a period of over two years, with the Home Office intent on defending the same, before proceeding to a full hearing. As both our clients were abroad it was also difficult at times to conduct matters.

‘The decision also noted that there was no bar to our clients making a private law action against the Home Office for false imprisonment which we will be subsequently advising our clients on. We have since appealed and are awaiting a decision.’