Master James has become the latest judge at the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) to refuse an application by a former client to obtain parts of a law firm’s file over which the solicitor has proprietary rights.
It follows the decision of Master Leonard in Green and Ors v SGI Legal LLP  EWHC B27 (Costs), which we reported in the last eBulletin before Christmas, while Master James was also referred to similar cases before Masters Rowley and Nagalingam.
In Hanley v JC and A Solicitors Ltd  EWHC B28 (Costs), she said: “I am aware that this court is receiving a large and increasing number of these types of claims and I suspect every master now sitting in the SCCO has already heard several of them. As my brother SCCO judges’ decisions are not binding upon me, I do not cite them here but did read them all.”
The application in Hanley, as in Green, was made by Leeds firm JG Solicitors, which describes itself as the country’s “leading experts in fighting unfair compensation deductions”.
The status quo, said Master James, was that such applications almost invariably led to an order for the production of the documents that belonged to the former client upon payment of a fee, but not an order for documents that did not belong to them.
“The development of a new business model of representing claimants who were previously represented under a CFA by their former solicitors, and whose damages have been depleted to a greater or lesser extent by the charging of a fee under the post-LASPO regime, has led to a significant increase in the number of these cases coming through the courts, and the SCCO in particular. Does this mean that there is a need for a change in the status quo?”
She concluded that there was not, noting that there was no binding decided case in which solicitors have been ordered to hand over papers over which they have proprietorial rights.
Master James said: “I am concerned by several aspects of this case, for example the defendant taking a sum equal to exactly 25% of the damages and rendering a second bill several years after the first one was delivered and paid.
“However, I am also concerned by the floodgates that would likely be opened by a ruling that solicitors can be ordered to hand over their complete file in circumstances such as these; such a move would foreseeably instil considerable satellite litigation and I am not persuaded that this would be a positive step, and dismiss the application accordingly.”