The High Court has ordered a sole practitioner to disclose key information in a long-running costs dispute with another law firm.
Commercial firm EMW Law LLP said it should have access to documents showing payments to sole practitioner practice Halborg & Co following the settlement of a claim against a firm of architects.
Scott Halborg had been running the claim and in 2009 entered into an agreement with EMW under which it was to carry out work as Halborg’s agent. EMW was to be due a success fee, basic charges and disbursements, provided that these had been recovered in full from the firm of architects.
The solicitors for the architects, national firm Berrymans Lace Mawer, served points of dispute in 2011 in which it stated EMW’s work was ‘in its entirety duplicative’ of Halborg’s work and was of no value.
EMW attempted to contact Berrymans directly two months later, offering to accept £65,000 – around half of the original bill – which led Halborg to say EMW had made a breach of contract and was disentitled to any payment.
EMW, which claims for breach of contract, says that Halborg settled the claim for costs in November 2011, although he states ‘unequivocally’ there had been no settlement of the costs claim.
Master Clark, sitting in the High Court (Chancery Division) in EMW Law LLP v Halborg, was asked to consider EMW’s application for specific disclosure and Halborg’s application for a trial of a preliminary issue.
Clark noted this was a case with a ‘high degree of animosity’ between the parties, in which they were not even able to agree summaries for the case management conference. Proceedings had commenced in the Senior Courts Costs Office as far back as October 2013.
The judge agreed there was no ‘public policy justification’ for withholding disclosure of certain documents: in particular correspondence between Halborg and Berrymans since July 2011 and documents evidencing payments made by Berrymans to Halborg.
On the issue of a trial on a preliminary issue, Clark said the prospects of the parties agreeing what facts would be relevant were ‘effectively nil’ and that whichever side lost was likely to appeal.
Refusing to order the trial, he added: ‘It is a claim which should be resolved as quickly and cost-effectively as possible; and two trials are inevitably more expensive than one.’