The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has refused a costs claim from the SRA for a hotel stay, prompting the regulator to seek clarification on expenses incurred for disciplinary hearings.
In a judgment this month, the tribunal said the SRA’s schedule of costs, at £16,273.50, was too high. A reduction must be made ‘not only for the time claimed for attending the hearing at seven hours, but also the time spent for preparation and consideration of documents which was excessive at 42 hours in total’.
The tribunal was also ‘not prepared to allow the cost of the applicant’s hotel accommodation, which it considered to be unnecessary’.
An SRA spokesperson said it is committed to keeping costs down and had accepted in that case they were too high. But it would seek clarity from the tribunal on whether hotel rooms can be claimed for, as overnight stays can be required to guarantee everyone gets to hearings on time.
However, SDT chief executive Susan Humble said it would not be appropriate to set a binding rule: ‘There will be cases where the SDT panels decide the SRA are not entitled to their hotel costs on a specific case. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.’
In 2017, the tribunal will provide more detailed reasoning in its judgments on why costs have been reduced or allowed, Humble added.
In the last six months, there have been at least two judgments where the tribunal has questioned the SRA’s ancillary expenses.
In one, the tribunal noted that the regulator had claimed ‘both for overnight accommodation in London and a train fare which appeared very high for the Birmingham to London return journey’.
The tribunal said: ‘The applicant should not be able to seek against a respondent both what appeared to be a peak-time rail fare and hotel costs; if staying overnight, one could travel at a lower cost.’
The SDT’s website states that hearings usually start at 10am.
The SRA spokesperson said hotel rooms are booked for overnight stays to make sure anyone who needs to attend a tribunal hearing – either to present the case or witnesses providing evidence – is present for the start of proceedings.