The Solicitors Regulation Authority has indicated that it will appeal a tribunal decision concerning solicitors alleged to have overcharged clinical negligence clients. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal confirmed this week that its order concerning Andrew Good and Danielle Park is now subject to appeal to the High Court by the SRA.
The tribunal said its order remains in force pending the High Court’s decision on the appeal.
Following a two-week hearing over the summer, the tribunal found it proven that Good caused his Hull firm Rapid Response to routinely overcharge by rendering bills of costs which were, and which he knew to be, ‘excessive and often grossly excessive’. It was found that Good’s conduct was likely to diminish the trust the public placed in him and the legal profession.
An allegation of dishonesty against Good, who founded the firm in 2003, was found not proven. He was fined £30,000.
It is not known at this stage whether the SRA is appealing the tribunal finding or the sanction, or both.
Park, a solicitor for six years and the manager of the firm’s costs department, was also charged with causing the firm to overcharge and with dishonesty. She denied all charges and the case was found not proven against her.
The SRA had submitted that the firm’s bills were excessive and often grossly excessive due to the hourly rates and success fees claimed.
A schedule of 151 cases, compiled by a company called Acumension Ltd, which acted for NHS Litigation Authority against the firm, showed 22 cases were billed at £400 per hour and 40 were billed at £250 per hour. Of the £6.5m claimed in costs by the firm, it recovered less than £1.5m.
Good submitted that there was ‘significant doubt’ as to whether a 100% success fee could be deemed excessive and that it was lawful for the success fee to be charged at the agreed rate in any bill. He argued that the tribunal could not be satisfied that bills deemed excessive were ‘routinely’ rendered and said the sample of cases relied upon from Acumension was too low to provide a reliable picture. Given these matters, he submitted that the tribunal could not be sure that any overcharging (even if the tribunal found there had been overcharging) amounted to misconduct.
Park had submitted that criticisms levelled at her, namely that she failed to act quickly and robustly enough, were not enough to amount to professional misconduct. She had no experience of clinical negligence work, had been over-promoted and did not have the authority to set the rates.
Even if the SRA sought to show she failed to take action, the allegation was that she caused excessive bills to be rendered, and Park submitted that this could not be proved.