The Solicitors Regulation Authority has been criticised by the tribunal for charging too much to prosecute a ‘straightforward’ case, it emerged this week.
The regulator had applied for £22,500 costs following a two-day Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing in July, to run the case against Julian Critchlow, but ended up being awarded just £8,000. The tribunal was also critical of the SRA for employing external advisers when the case could have been handled in-house.
Critchlow, 63, had admitted drunkenly touching a paralegal colleague inappropriately at a London pub, with colleagues and a client sitting at the same table. He was fined £10,000.
But his lawyers contested the SRA’s claim for costs, pointing out Critchlow had self-reported the matter following an internal investigation by his firm. Papers were relatively short and not complicated, and his defence lawyers’ claimed-for hours were ‘nowhere near’ those of Capsticks, the SRA’s instructed firm.
In an unusually strong assessment of the SRA’s fees, tribunal chair Andrew Spooner said the schedule of costs filed by the regulator was ‘of very little use’, and he noted this was the same in ‘numerous’ previous cases.
Spooner added: ‘[The schedule] did not say what hourly rate was used by the different levels of fee earners. It contained no specific detail of the work done. Five fee earners were named and there was no breakdown of why there was so much partner involvement for such a straightforward case.’
Capsticks’ Grace Hansen told the tribunal that a rate of £200 per hour was ‘proportionate’ and said it was ‘coincidence’ that the amount claimed in fees at 92.5 hours came out at exactly the same figure - £18,500 - agreed as a fixed fee for the case.
Addressing each aspect of work claimed for, the tribunal almost halved the 9.5 hours for reviewing case papers and case planning, and reduced the 27 hours for producing a prosecution statement to 20. The SRA had claimed for 18.1 hours for answer and case management, and the tribunal noted Critchlow’s answer had amounted to five lines of text. This was reduced to 10 hours.
The tribunal ruled that this was a case that ‘could and should’ have been dealt with by the SRA in-house at £130 per hour, and this figure should have been used as the base hourly rate. The case required 60 hours rather than the 92.5 suggested by the regulator.