Update – Belsner v CAM Legal appeal

The appeal in the case of Belsner v CAM Legal Services was finally heard in the Court of Appeal during the week commencing 3 October with judgment being reserved.

According to reports in the Law Society Gazette that week, the Court heard that:

  • it was "rediculous" for the case to have reached the High Court and the Court of Appeal (CAM's Counsel)
  • CAM Legal Services charged its client £385.50, including VAT, on top of the £500 fixed costs recovered from the Defendant in a low-value RTA claim (CAM's Counsel)
  • There was a "complete lack of evidence" that the client had been aggrieved by the reduction (Counsel for the Law Society)
  • Belsner "had absolutely nothing to complain about the services she received" (CAM's Counsel)
  • The client was entitled to bring a High Court claim - "just saying it's rediculous doesn't get you very far" (Master of the Rolls)
  • "It seems most unreasonable at first" that a client might not know what solicitors might deduct from them (Sir Geoffrey Vos - Master of the Rolls)
  • "Solicitors have regulatory responsibilities and contractual obligations to give their clients the best possible advice and to conduct a costs benefit analysis" (CAM's Counsel)
  • "It does seem odd that it is OK to send a raft of impenetrable documents to someone who has a small claim..." (Master of the Rolls)
  • "We have to decide whether it is appropriate or not..." if solicitors' practices have to change "then so be it" (Lord Justice Flaux)
  • "the Society would say that if you sat down and read [the Law Society's model] CFA, it is comprehensible, because it is meant to be read by lay people." (Counsel for the Law Society)
  • "We have to be quite careful, particiularly when there are hundreds of thousands of such cases, not to make solicitors' lives impossible, or indeed to make clients' lives impossible." (Master of the Rolls)
  • CAM Legal Services did not have its client's informed consent to deduct around £321.50 that was not recovered from the Defendant in the personal injury claim (Belsner's Counsel)
  • There was an inequality within the relationship between solicitor and client (Belsner's Counsel)
  • When agreeing a retainer without setting out exactly how deductions would be made, the firm "at that stage put themselves in conflict with the client" and "they do not tell [Belsner] what amount may be recovered under the fixed costs" (Belsner's Counsel)
  • "The client was not told about the recoverability of costs and that they are supposed to be reasonable. The client was not told that the actual costs estimate was five times what was recovered and she was at risk of paying a disproportionate amount of costs." (Belsner's Counsel)
  • There had been a "regrettable disconnect..." but the deduction was "modest and fully in-keeping with [Belsner's] expectations" (CAM's Counsel)
  • The Bill prepared for Belsner was "incredibly unclear" and "doesn't seem to clarify anything" (Master of the Rolls)

It is likely that, in making its judgment (which has been reserved) the Court of Appeal will include guidance on when legal business can be counted as contentious and non-contentioius and what costs can be incurred for each; a ruling as to whether or not CAM Legal Services was entitled to claim back unrecovered costs form Belsner's damages; a review of the Law Society's model CFA; and a ruling as to whether or not the costs incurred were reasonable.

The first of the Law Society's articles on this case can be found here: Belsner: Lawyers await ‘costs case of the decade’ ruling

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