14 February 2023
A solicitor breached an undertaking to maintain the costs claim of the firm that previously handled a case because he did not realise he had extinguished its costs in settling his own.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found that Alvin Gilbert Just damaged public trust as a result but, because it was a genuine error, had not acted without integrity.
The finding formed part of a broader disciplinary case featuring much more serious allegations that led to Mr Just being struck off.
In 2013, his firm, Just & Brown in North London, took over a matter that had been handled by Chester practice BGR Bloomer (BGRB). Mr Just undertook, on behalf of the firm, to preserve a lien over the file in relation to BGRB’s costs, not to agree any settlement of BGRB’s costs without its prior agreement and, once the case had concluded, to provide details of the settlement reached and return the file to BGRB so it could deal with its costs.
However, he did not tell BGRB about the settlement and agreed costs of £8,250 in full and final settlement. This sum did not include any of BGRB’s costs.
Mr Just told the tribunal that he did not consider he had breached the undertaking because he had not agreed any costs on behalf of BGRB – in essence, he believed he was only settling his firm’s costs when in fact the costs settlement included those of previous solicitors.
The SDT said: “The tribunal found that Mr Just genuinely did not understand that in claiming costs in the way that he did, he had precluded BGRB from claiming its costs.”
Though this was unintentional, “such conduct failed to maintain the trust the public placed in him and in the provision of legal services” – but it did not amount to a lack of integrity, as the Solicitors Regulation Authority had alleged.
The SDT heard that BGRB brought a separate civil action against Just & Brown for recovery of the costs and was awarded £22,900.