Grayling has found a supporter for his legal aid reforms! But caveat emptor
1 Aug 2013 at 11:03
I am delighted to report that our beloved and beleaguered Lord Chancellor has found a friend! Yes a solicitor who was quoted in the Guardian supporting his very popular reform of legal aid. His name is John Wilson of Wilson’s solicitors in Bradford.
This is what he was quoted as saying:
“The legal profession has a vested professional interest in keeping the system as it is. I think we should scrap the legal aid system. Legal aid accounts for 10% of the fee income of lawyers. Every lawyer ought to do 10%of their work for nought. Lawyers are experts at squeezing as much money out of the system as they can”.
As Mr.Wilson has referred us to the Guardian piece on his firm’s website I imagine that he stands by his quotes as accurate.
This isn’t perchance the same John Wilson who wrote to his local newspaper in 2004 saying that Legal aid is a “cash cow for lawyers”?
And is he any relation to a solicitor called John Barrie Wilson?
If it is him it would be useful to read the following ruling at disciplinary proceedings.
SOLICITORS DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL
SOLICITORS ACT 1974
IN THE MATTER OF JOHN BARRIE WILSON, solicitor (Respondent)
Upon the application of Peter Harland Cadman
on behalf of the Solicitors Regulation Authority
Mr. D. Green (in the chair)
Mrs J. Martineau
Mr. G. Fisher
Date of Hearing: 11th, 12th 13th and 14th January and
23rd, 24th and 25th February 2010
FINDINGS AND DECISION
Peter Harland Cadman, Solicitor & Partner in the firm of Russell-Cooke of 8 Bedford Row, London, WC1R 4BX the Applicant, on behalf of the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA).
The Respondent was present in person.
The application to the Tribunal, on behalf of the SRA, was made on 14th May 2008 with Further and Better Particulars dated 2nd October 2009.
The allegations against the Respondent were that he had:-
1. Failed to provide adequate confirmation to clients contrary to Practice Rule 15, Solicitors’ Practice Rules 1990 and Solicitors’ Costs Information and Client Care Code 1999.
2. Failed to provide adequate advice to clients of the firm as to the funding of litigation.
3. Failed to act in the clients’ best interests.
4. Failed to keep clients properly informed of cost liabilities.
5. Taken unfair advantage of clients.
6. Acted where there had been a conflict of interest between his own interest and that of the clients.
7. Raised bills of costs in a matter to decrease funds available to legitimate creditors.
8. Improperly provided a business card to a client, Mr Foster, describing him as a consultant of the firm contrary to the Solicitors’ Publicity Code 2001.
9. Failed properly to supervise staff.
1. The Respondent, born in 1961, was admitted as a solicitor in 1986. His name remains on the Roll.
2. At all material times, the Respondent was in practice in partnership as Wilsons (the firm) at 6A Rodley Lane, Rodley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS13 1HU. The Respondent is the sole equity partner with one salaried partner.
3. An inspection of the firm had been carried out by the SRA commencing on 15th August 2006 and resulting in a Forensic Investigation Report dated 5th March 2007 (the FI Report). Following correspondence between the SRA and the Respondent, on 6th August 2007 an Adjudicator referred the conduct of the Respondent to the Tribunal.
4. Of the 19 complaints registered by the firm, ten had related to costs. Two of the firm’s general documents had dealt with costs information; “Our client care charter” and “Employment problems”.
The matter of Mrs O
5. From 13th November 2004, the firm had acted for Mrs O in an employment tribunal matter conducted by Paul Jackson, a trainee solicitor. The matter had resulted in a contested employment tribunal hearing that had concluded on 17th October 2005 with an award, in favour of Mrs O, in the sum of £57,227 together with costs of £1,000.
6. The firm had received £58,252.56, held in client account as at 5th December 2005. On 15th January 2006, the Respondent had submitted his first and only bill in the sum of £58,252.56 and Mrs O had not received any compensation.
7. During the conduct of Mrs O’s case, the trainee solicitor had charged at £140 per hour. At the hearing, the trainee and another member of staff had attended and the intention had been that the client should be charged for both. The firm had not submitted monthly bills to Mrs O during the course of the retainer and she had been unaware of the extent of her costs liability.
8. Following Mrs O’s complaint to the Law Society about the costs, the matter had been resolved with the Respondent re-paying £35,000 to Mrs O.
The matter of Mrs W
9. In the matter of the firm’s client Mrs W, on 4th November 2004 the Employment Tribunal had made an award in her favour of £29,426.48. The firm had charged the client £25,745.40 plus a medical fee of £58.60. Mrs W had therefore received only £3,621.48 from the award. Following her complaint, the matter had proceeded to Law Society adjudication on 21st August 2006 when the Respondent had been ordered to pay compensation of £1,500 and to refund costs to the client of £15,936.57.
The matters of Mr & Mrs Foster
10. The Respondent had acted for Mr & Mrs Foster with regard to financial and other matters. On 12th December 2001 an equitable mortgage had been created by the firm between the firm and Mrs Foster. It had related to Mrs Foster’s interest in half of the equity of a property, 8 Stoney Croft (the property). The equitable mortgage had been to cover the legal services provided by the firm to Mr & Mrs Foster. During the period 22nd January 2002 to 18th August 2003, bills had been raised to a total sum of £19,609.31.
11. On 29th June 2005, following the death of Mrs Foster’s Mother, the Life Tenant, Mrs Foster’s sister had agreed to purchase Mrs Foster’s half share of the property for £69,000. On 12th July 2005, the Respondent had written to Mr & Mrs Foster informing them that the firm was looking to recover costs in the sum of £43,000. At that point Mr & Mrs Foster had sought legal advice.
Documentary Evidence before the Tribunal
12. Inter alia, the Tribunal reviewed the Rule 5 Statement dated 14th May 2008 together with the documents exhibited to that Statement and the Applicant’s Response to the Request for Further & Better Particulars. The Tribunal also reviewed four lever-arch files of papers served by the Respondent, a chronology and arguments. In his statements, the Respondent denied all the allegations. A copy of the Adjudicator’s Decisions of 21st August 2006 and 30th April 2007 were also before the Tribunal.
13. Paul Jackson, who had been a trainee solicitor at the firm of Wilsons between September 2003 and September 2005, gave oral evidence. He relied on his statement dated 24th August 2009, dealing with the details of the employment claim brought by Mrs O. Mr Jackson stressed that the Respondent had been closely involved at all stages of the claim. He also explained that Mrs O had been told that her legal fees would be met from any award of compensation and that it was always possible that her legal costs would exceed the amount of any award. However, Mr Jackson agreed that monthly bills had not been sent to Mrs O, with the result that she had not realised the full extent of the costs being incurred on her behalf and, when she had been awarded a large amount of compensation, she had not expected to lose it all in costs.
14. Debra M Tennant, a friend of Mr & Mrs Foster, gave oral evidence. She relied on her statement of 13th August 2009 dealing her relationship with Mr & Mrs Foster and her meetings with the Respondent. Mrs Tennant explained that she had been aware that Mrs Foster was entitled to half the value of her Mother’s house (the property). Shehad also known that Mrs Foster’s sister was to buy Mrs Foster’s share in the property for £69,000. Mrs Tennant said that she had known nothing about a charge and that she had understood that the Respondent had been keeping the Fosters’ creditors at bay and that Mr Foster had been working for the Respondent to pay off any fees. Mrs Tennant explained how she had been aware that Mrs Foster had wanted to buy a static caravan and how surprised she herself had been when the Respondent had said to her that he was not having his money used for that purpose.
15. John Foster gave oral evidence and relied on his statement of 14th August 2009. He gave details of his dealings with the Respondent, inter alia, explaining how the Respondent’s firm had acted for him in a professional negligence claim for some £600,000 against his former solicitors. That claim had settled in 1999 in the sum of £85,000 and subsequently the Respondent had acted, pro-bono, in a complaint, against those same solicitors, to the OSS. Mr Foster said that during the course of the litigation he and his wife had incurred credit card debts that they had subsequently been unable to pay off. He explained that the Respondent had said that he could help them against the creditors and that the Respondent had arranged for Mrs Foster to sign a blank document telling her that he wanted to protect her future inheritance. At that time Mr Foster’s debts had been about £35,000 and Mrs Foster’s some £18,000.
16. Mr Foster told the Tribunal that he and his wife had received bills of costs until 2003 but had believed the Respondent when he had told them that he was doing the work for them for nothing. From August 2003, Mr Foster explained that he had been working for the Respondent, who had provided him with a business card, a car and a mobile ‘phone. His role had been to help with the expansion of the Respondent’s business.
17. In April 2005, Mr Foster said his Mother-In Law had died and, at a meeting in May 2005, the Respondent had confirmed that he and his wife owed the Respondent nothing. However, in a letter dated 12th July 2005, the Respondent had said that Mrs Foster owed the firm £43,000 which, if properly billed, would take the full amount of her inheritance. Mrs Foster’s sister had also received a letter dated 12th July 2005 asking her to forward her cheque for £69,000 to the firm to enable them to deal with the transfer of the property.
18. Mr Foster told the Tribunal that following the adjudication of their complaint by the Law Society, they had been awarded £15,000 and told that no costs had been payable.
19. In response to detailed cross-examination by the Respondent, inter alia, Mr Foster agreed that he had probably received letters from the Respondent, including client care letters and a copy of the equitable charge, but that he could not remember them specifically. He insisted that the Respondent had said that he and his wife would not have to pay him and that all bills should be just put in a drawer and forgotten. Mr Foster said that his wife’s signature on a blank piece of paper had not been witnessed in her presence.
20. Mr Foster agreed that he had become bankrupt in November 2005, on the advice of an insolvency expert, but insisted that he had always known that he would do so eventually.
21. Hilary Foster gave oral evidence and relied on her statement of 14th August 2009. Inter alia, Mrs Foster explained that she and her husband had a meeting with the Respondent at which they had given him all their credit card bills. The Respondent had given her a blank piece of paper with dots on to sign that she had thought had been a form of authority for him to act on her behalf. Mrs Foster said that the Respondent had never advised her to see another lawyer.
22. Following her Mother’s death in April 2005, Mrs Foster explained that there had been a meeting at the Respondent’s office during which he had said to her and her husband that they owed him nothing.
23. In response to detailed cross-examination by the Respondent, inter alia, Mrs Foster insisted that they had not approached the Respondent but that he had ‘phoned them and offered to help in November 2001. Moreover, that she had signed a blank piece of paper in the Respondent’s offices and did not remember subsequently receiving an equitable mortgage deed by post or discussing the property with the Respondent or being advised that her creditors would have to be told about it.
24. Mrs Foster said that the bills had stopped when Mr Foster had started working for the Respondent.
25. Inter alia, Mrs Foster denied knowing anything about setting up a charity or wanting a bank account or being advised by the Respondent that she had already lost her inheritance. Moreover, she did not know why initial correspondence from her subsequent legal advisors had not referred to her signing a blank piece of paper at the Respondent’s offices.
26. Stephanie Young, the Investigation Officer who had investigated and prepared the Report dated 5th March 2007, gave oral evidence relating to her Report and produced further documents as listed in her statement dated 27th November 2009.
27. In cross-examination, inter alia, Ms Young provided details of her professional experience and the purpose of her factually-based Report. She stressed that her role had been to obtain facts and not to reach conclusions.
28. Debra Parkin, who had been employed by the firm, gave oral evidence relating to her knowledge of the file of Mr & Mrs Foster.
29. The Respondent gave oral evidence adopting his original statement together with his Summary Agenda, Arguments and Chronology, copies of which documents were handed to the Tribunal. He also referred to specific documents in the four lever-arch files before the Tribunal.
30. The Respondent provided details of his professional background and of his firm emphasising his intense interest in his Profession. He stressed that the matters of Mrs W and Mrs O had been concluded more or less at the same time. The Respondent explained his firm’s approach to so called “unbundling” in Employment claims and referred to the relevant documentation supplied to clients, including his firm’s client care charter. He detailed the circumstances of the cases of Mrs W and Mrs O and stressed that both clients had been warned that their costs could be as much as, or even exceed any damages recovered. The Respondent insisted that he had been acting in the best interests of these clients.
31. Dealing with allegation 6, the Respondent asserted that conflict existed in all cases undertaken by solicitors. He explained that in Employment cases monthly bills could have been misleading and that all such clients had been told, at the outset, that their costs liability could well equal their compensation. However, he stressed that clients had never been at risk in that if their claims had failed, they would not have been subject to any costs liability.
32. In relation to Mrs O, the Respondent stressed that she had been told throughout that she would not achieve a financial benefit. However, her case had not been about money but about her future ability to work in her field. The problem had been that she had not been informed about her escalating costs and could not understand that because of those very high costs, her compensation, albeit larger than anticipated, had not resulted in any payment to her. The Respondent stressed that her actual benefit had been in being able to continue to work in her field in that previously her name had been removed from the POVA list.
33. In relation to Mr H, the Respondent explained that the client had been receiving monthly accounts, although his costs estimate had not been revised, and that the matter had, at all times, been supervised by an experienced matrimonial lawyer.
34. The Respondent explained, in detail, the system of supervision within his firm.
35. In relation to Mr & Mrs Foster, the Respondent referred the Tribunal to his 71 page statement dealing with the background and all the relevant issues taking the Tribunal through all the key points. He explained that he had completed his statement early in 2007. The Respondent stressed that in October 2001 Mr & Mrs Foster had asked to see him and that he had made it clear to them that while he was prepared to help them in relation to various matters, he was not prepared to sort those matters out for them for nothing.
36. The Respondent insisted that Mrs Foster had agreed to, and had signed, an equitable charge, while being fully aware of what it was and of what it was for that was to secure the Respondent’s costs of acting for both Mr & Mrs Foster. He stressed that he had also served notice of the charge on the sole executor of Mrs Foster’s late Father’s Estate and also on her Mother and Sister. The Respondent explained that he had been instructed to and had sought to stave off the bankruptcies of both Mr & Mrs Foster pending the change in Bankruptcy Law. He stressed that the whole point had been that as at November 2001, because of her debts, Mrs Foster’s inheritance had already gone but could be used to secure legal fees.
37. The cessation of the firm’s monthly accounts in August 2003, the Respondent said, had occurred solely at the request of Mr & Mrs Foster who had found them distressing.
38. The Respondent explained his charity project and its associated activities. He insisted that Mr Foster’s role had been not to work for Wilson’s Solicitors (which had never been charged for his time) but to promote the idea of the legal charity which had been related to un-met legal need.
39. Following the death of Mrs Foster’s Mother, the Respondent explained that he had sent three letters to Mr& Mrs Foster in order to separate their business relationship from their relationship as friends. He had viewed his letter about his firm’s bill as a starting point for negotiations. However, their relationship had broken down and subsequently both Mr Dyson and Mr Manning (solicitors) had been involved in trying to resolve matters. The Respondent insisted that any matters, including the allegation of the signing of a blank piece of paper, not raised by Mr & Mrs Foster in the letter of 10th January 2006 had been subsequently made up by them.
Findings as to fact and law
Allegation 1 – That the Respondent had failed to provide adequate confirmation to clients contrary to Practice Rule 15, Solicitors’ Practice Rules 1990 and Solicitors’ Costs Information and Client Care Code 1999.
40. The Applicant submitted that inadequate confirmation as to costs had been provided to Mr & Mrs Foster, Mr H, Mrs O and Mrs W in that they had not been provided with adequate, clear and up-to-date information as to the extent of their cost liability arising during the course of their litigation. Moreover, Mr Foster had not been advised as to the merits and benefits of the work to be undertaken.
41. The Respondent submitted that both Mrs O and Mrs W had been aware of their costs liability with the firm and that Mr H had been provided with monthly bills. Mr & Mrs Foster had instructed him to act initially to sort out their debts and subsequently to delay bankruptcy while being fully aware that the monthly bills would be paid from Mrs Foster’s half-share in the house.
42. The Tribunal found the allegation to have been substantiated on the facts and proved in respect of all the named clients. All the clients had costs liabilities to the firm and should have been provided with regular and detailed costs updates. Such bills as had been provided had not been sufficiently detailed.
Allegation 2 – That the Respondent had failed to provide adequate advice to clients of the firm as to the funding of litigation.
43. The Applicant submitted that inadequate advice as to the funding of litigation had been provided to Mrs O and Mr & Mrs Foster. In the case of Mrs O, she had not been provided with any advice as to alternative possible funding. Whereas, Mr & Mrs Foster had not been advised either as to the possibility of alternative funding or as to the actual merits of retaining paid solicitors for the purposes of and for the extent of the work actually undertaken.
44. The Respondent submitted that all avenues of funding had been properly considered with all clients. Moreover, Mr & Mrs Foster had been aware that they would not receive any of the proceeds from the house but had initially wanted the bankruptcy process to be as civilised as possible and subsequently had wanted bankruptcy delayed to benefit from the changes in the relevant law.
45. The Tribunal was not satisfied that it had been proved, to the required standard, so that the Tribunal was sure, that adequate advice as to methods of funding had not been provided.
Allegation 3 – That the Respondent had failed to act in clients’ best interests.
46. The Applicant submitted that in the matters of Mrs W, Mrs O and Mr & Mrs Foster, the Respondent had failed to act in their best interests.
47. In the cases of both Mrs W and Mrs O, the Applicant submitted that they should have been properly advised as to the amount of the costs of the litigation and that that obligation had increased as the litigation costs had become disproportionate to the possible benefits of the litigation.
48. In the case of Mr & Mrs Foster, the Applicant submitted that they had not been properly advised as to the benefit of retaining solicitors to act in the particular matters. Moreover, Mr Foster had never been advised adequately as to the likelihood of avoiding bankruptcy or of the benefits of an immediate bankruptcy as opposed to the matter being drawn out for a number of years prior to the occurrence of the actual bankruptcy.
49. The Respondent submitted that at all times he had acted in the best interests of his clients. In the case of Mr & Mrs Foster, he stressed that bankruptcy had not been inevitable.
50. The Tribunal found the allegation to have been substantiated on the facts and proved in respect of all the named clients. The Respondent’s failure to keep each client informed in detail about costs and prospects of success had resulted in those clients not being in a position to make an informed decision.
Allegation 4 – That the Respondent had failed to keep clients properly informed of cost liabilities.
51. The Applicant explained that the allegation related to Mr & Mrs Foster, Mrs O, Mrs W and Mr H.
53. In the case of both Mrs W and Mrs O, the Applicant submitted that they should have been provided with appropriate costs information, the extent of which should have included, on a regular basis, the quantum of costs, the degree of risk and the cost benefit to the clients of continuing with the matter.
54. In the case of Mr & Mrs Foster, the Applicant submitted that they should have been provided with appropriate costs information and that they should have been informed as to the extent of the cost on a regular basis especially with relevance to quantum, the degree of risk and the cost benefit to them of continuing the matter to its conclusion. Moreover, the Applicant submitted that although bills had been delivered to Mr & Mrs Foster they had not been bills that the firm had expected to be paid.
55. The Respondent submitted that Mr H had been provided with monthly bills and that Mrs W and Mrs O had been warned about the potential level of costs. Mr & Mrs Foster had initially been sent monthly bills until they asked not to be sent any further bills. However, Mr & Mrs Foster had been fully aware that not only were they to be charged for the Respondent’s work but that those charges would be satisfied by way of the equitable charge entered into by Mrs Foster.
56. The Tribunal found the allegation to have been substantiated on the facts and proved in respect of all the named clients. The Tribunal noted, however, that Mr & Mrs Foster had been informed regularly, but only up to August 2003, about the amount of their costs and had been aware that those costs would have to be paid eventually. Mr H had received monthly bills but his costs estimate had never been updated.
Allegation 5 – That the Respondent had taken unfair advantage of clients.
57. The Applicant explained that the allegation related to Mr & Mrs Foster, Mrs O and Mrs W.
58. In the case of both Mrs W and Mrs O, the Applicant submitted that their litigation had been allowed to continue when in fact they would not have been the net beneficiaries of any successful litigation in that the only beneficiary would have been the Respondent’s firm.
59. In the matter of Mr & Mrs Foster the Applicant submitted that bills of costs had been generated by the Respondent’s firm with regard to Mr Foster in circumstances where Mr Foster had believed that no bill would need to be paid in part because of the services that he had been providing to the Respondent. Also that the Respondent had charged fees for work that had not been undertaken and had included such fees in the bills submitted to Mr & Mrs Foster.
60. Further the Applicant submitted that the charge taken over Mrs Foster’s beneficial interest in real estate had been improperly obtained and had not been in the best interests of Mrs Foster and moreover that the billing arrangements between the firm and Mr & Mrs Foster had not been in their best interests.
61. The Respondent submitted that there had been benefits for both Mrs O and Mrs W notwithstanding that their costs would reduce their damages. He stressed that claims in the Employment Tribunal were not made for the primary purpose of recovering compensation and that all clients were told that they should proceed on the basis that they would recover nothing. Monthly accounts would have been both misleading and not of benefit to clients.
62. As to Mr & Mrs Foster, the Respondent said that they had never undertaken any work for or on behalf of his firm. He submitted that the evidence before the Tribunal fully justified a finding that the equitable charge had been properly obtained and signed.
63. The Tribunal was not satisfied that it had been proved, to the required standard, so that the Tribunal was sure, that the Respondent had taken unfair advantage of his clients Mrs O, Mrs W and Mr & Mrs Foster.
Allegation 6 – That the Respondent had acted where there had been a conflict of interest between his own interest and that of the clients.
64. The Applicant explained that the allegation related to Mr & Mrs Foster, Mrs O and Mrs W.
65. The Applicant submitted that with regard to Mr & Mrs Foster, Mrs O and Mrs W there had been a conflict between the firm’s interest for fee income and the obligations to act in the best interests of individual clients. In the case of Mr & Mrs Foster the conflict had been exemplified by the circumstances in which a charge had been taken over the assets of Mrs Foster and the lack of any independent legal advice.
66. The Respondent submitted that any conflicts had been managed appropriately by the firm in the best interests of the clients.
67. The Tribunal was not satisfied that it had been proved, to the required standard, so that the Tribunal was sure, that the Respondent had acted in a situation of conflict of interest with his clients Mrs O, Mrs W and Mr & Mrs Foster.
Allegation 7 – That the Respondent had raised bills of costs in a matter to decrease funds available to legitimate creditors.
68. The Applicant explained that the allegation related to Mr Foster only in that he should have been advised earlier to enter into bankruptcy or an IVA. He submitted that there had never appeared to have been a realistic possibility of Mr Foster being able to reach a settlement with his creditors or compromise his debts.
69. The Applicant further submitted that the work, undertaken by the firm and the bills of costs created had been un-necessary and could have taken precedence over the rights of creditors. He stressed that that had been exemplified by the legal charge take over the assets of Mrs Foster which had secured the Respondent’s own position as against those of Mr & Mrs Foster’s creditors.
70. The Applicant explained that the allegation had been presented as one of general misconduct but that it had also been a breach of Practice Rule 1(a) – Solicitor’s integrity, 1 (b) – Solicitor’s duty to act in the best interest of the client and 1 © – the good repute of the Solicitor or of the Profession. It had also been presented as a breach of Rule 17.01 – a breach of an obligation of fairness by taking unfair advantage.
71. The Respondent submitted that there had never been any possibility of an IVA in that Mr Foster had had no funds with which to finance any proposals. He stressed that Mr & Mrs Foster had wanted his firm to undertake work for them and the whole point of the equitable charge had been to ensure that, with the Fosters’ full agreement, the firm got paid for all the work done on their behalf.
72. The Tribunal found the allegation to have been substantiated on the facts and found it proved. The Tribunal particularly noted the contents of the retainer letter and was satisfied that the amount of work done and the costs incurred had been excessive and completely disproportionate. The Tribunal was satisfied that the Respondent had been aware that those fees generated by him would reduce the funds available to meet the debts owed by Mrs Foster.
Allegation 8 – That the Respondent had improperly provided a business card to a client, Mr Foster, describing him as a consultant of the firm contrary to the Solicitors’ Publicity Code 2001.
73. The Respondent submitted that the evidence was clear that Mr Foster had been a consultant to the charity AdviceNet Trust and not at any time to the firm.74. The Tribunal found the allegation to have been substantiated on the facts and the evidence and found it proved. It noted that the business card had been similar to those issued to other members of the firm and the words Wilsons Solicitors appeared clearly on its face.
Allegation 9 – That the Respondent had failed to supervise staff properly
75. The Applicant submitted that the lack of supervision related to Paul Jackson, a trainee solicitor, in the litigation matter on behalf of Mrs O.
76. The Respondent submitted that the evidence, particularly that of Paul Jackson himself, had supported a system of full and effective supervision.
77. The Tribunal was not satisfied that it had been proved, to the required standard, so that the Tribunal was sure, that Paul Jackson had not been subject to proper supervision by the firm.
78. The Respondent said that most of the more serious charges against him had not been found proved and although he did not underestimate the seriousness of the proceedings, he did feel justified in defending those proceedings as he had done as he had succeeded in defending his integrity. He stressed that his firm was now providing costs estimates and regular costs updates and that he had been operating as a full-time manager rather than as a fee-earner. The Respondent reminded the Tribunal that the relevant events had taken place some six years ago and he offered his apologies. He hoped that he was facing a financial rather than any greater penalty and possibly no penalty at all given that he had spent the last five years defending his good name.
79. The Respondent provided details of the current financial circumstances of his firm and of his own financial circumstances. He submitted that the Applicant’s costs schedule of almost £60.000 should be subject to a detailed assessment and severely reduced. Moreover, that he should be awarded some costs.
80. The Applicant submitted that all of the allegations had been properly reviewed and prosecuted, that there had been no admissions by the Respondent and no allegation of dishonesty before the Tribunal. All the allegations had come before the Tribunal as fully contested matters. The Respondent had insisted that the Forensic Investigations Officer be called but had failed to provide a statement himself in answer to the specific allegations and cross-referenced to all the documents submitted by him in four lever-arch files. Such an approach, the Applicant submitted, had added to both the time of and the costs of the hearing.
81. The Applicant agreed that a summary assessment of the costs would be inappropriate.
Sanction and Reasons
82. The Tribunal had found five of the nine allegations proved on the evidence presented to it. It considered that those allegations were of a serious nature affecting as they did the reputation of the Profession and the trust placed in members of the Profession by the Public. In the view of the Tribunal, it was vital that clients were provided with full costs information and updates and that instructions and advice were clear, recorded in writing and updated as necessary. It was for clients to be provided with full information and to be advised, in the light of that information by the solicitor, but it was for the client, with the benefit of that information and advice, to make his or her own decision.
83. The Tribunal had been extremely concerned about the Respondent’s actions in relation to the bills of costs raised in matters relating to Mr & Mrs Foster: large sums to achieve very little. Taking into account the nature of the five allegations proved, the Tribunal considered a fine of £25,000 appropriate in all the circumstances. It had considered suspension, but in the light of the time that had passed since the events leading to the allegations, the results of the adjudications and the changed procedures within the firm, had determined that a significant fine would be appropriate to mark the serious view that the Tribunal took of the relevant events.
Decision as to Costs
84. The Tribunal was of the view that the Applicant was entitled to costs, subject to a detailed assessment, as it was satisfied that all the allegations had been properly brought. It considered that had the Respondent made appropriate admissions to certain of the allegations, agreed certain parts of the evidence and submitted a clear and concise statement, referenced to his documents, that could have been adopted as his evidence in chief, substantial costs could have been saved and the hearing would not then have taken seven days.
85. The Tribunal did not find any reasons for making any order for costs in favour of the Respondent.
The Orders of the Tribunal
86. The Tribunal Ordered that the Respondent, JOHN BARRIE WILSON of 6A Rodley Lane, Rodley, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS13 1HU, solicitor, do pay a fine of £25,000.00, such penalty to be forfeit to Her Majesty the Queen, and it further Ordered that he do pay the costs of and incidental to this application and enquiry subject to a detailed assessment unless agreed between the parties to include the costs of the Investigation Accountant of the Law Society, such costs not to be enforced through the Courts without the prior consent of the Tribunal but it is to be understood that this Order does not prohibit agreed terms for payment between the parties.
Dated this 29th day of June 2010
On behalf of the Tribunal
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I received this information from the Solicitors from Hell website.
I wouldn’t have thought that they would be popping the corks at the MOJ just yet.
Although John Barrie Wilson seems just the sort of chap who fits all of Grayling’s criteria to get a contract to provide a “quality” legal service.
It goes without saying that if the John Wilson in the Guardian who practices at Wilson’s solicitors Bradford is a totally different person from John Barrie Wilson formerly of Wilson’s solicitors in Leeds then he can hold his head high.
However I have done some research. Looking on the solicitor’s roll there is a John Barrie Wilson whose registered office is Law Offices Ltd. When you google that office have a guess which solicitors firm you are directed to? None other than the same Wilson’s solicitors whose very own John Wilson refers us to his comments in the Guardian.