Argonaut Property Development Ltd v Collyer-Bristow (A Firm): SCCO 16 Oct 2001

CourtService The Claimant company, registered in the Isle of Man and acting throughout by their London agent Miss T, instructed the Defendant Solicitors in connection with proceedings brought against the Claimants by former tenants of property they owned in Clerkenwell. In total five bills were rendered by the Defendant to the Claimant, totalling andpound;7,425.61, including disbursements and VAT. Four of those bills were paid, but the fifth was not paid, and the Claimants succeeded in obtaining an order for detailed assessment thereof. That detailed assessment was conducted by a Deputy Costs Judge. After the principal persons concerned had given oral evidence before her, and been cross examined thereon, she found as a fact that Miss T had stipulated that the work should be handled by the Defendants by a solicitor, and in fact it had been handled by a Mr P, who was a legal executive. Accordingly, the Deputy Costs Judge assessed the Defendants final bill at nil, and directed the Defendants to repay the amount of the earlier bills, following the case of Pilbrow v Peerless De Rougemont. Then, late in the day, there was argument as to the quantum of the Claimants costs, they being represented on that occasion by a costs draftsman instructed by another firm of solicitors. It was ultimately agreed that as final figures were not available these would be submitted by the solicitors concerned, commented on by the Defendants, and that the Costs Judge would then make a decision on costs without the necessity for either party to attend before her again.
The Claimant’s schedule included claims for interest on the monies paid by the Claimants to the Defendants, but ordered to be repaid, together with claims for costs, both in respect of the period when the solicitors were on the record for the Claimant, and also an earlier period where Miss T acted on their behalf.
The Deputy Costs Judge disallowed claims for interest, on the basis that they had not been claimed in the original proceedings, and made certain other reductions in the claim endorsing her brief reasons onto a copy of the Claimant’s schedule, which had been submitted to her, and after of course taking into account the Defendants representations.
The Claimants still acted through Miss T, obtained permission to appeal on what it became common ground was the basis of unintentionally misleading information put before the Judge. Permission to appeal was granted in respect of the failure to allow interest, and the reduction in costs by the disallowance of litigant in person costs.
The Judge on this appeal held that had the true facts been placed before the Judge who granted permission he would never have done so, and even the amended grounds of appeal suggested by Mr Webb, who again represented the Claimants on the appeal, could not save the appeal, which had therefore to be dismissed.
Although that was sufficient to dispose of the appeal, and everything else that the Judge said was strictly obiter, his findings on the question of interest merit report. Interest was claimed on one of four alternative bases: (a) Section 35(A) of the Supreme Court Act; (b) the general equitable jurisdiction of the courts; (c) Section 66(a) of the Solicitors Act 1974; and (d) Regulation 24 of the 1991 Solicitors Accounts Rules, or Regulation 25 of the 1998 Rules (it was not entirely clear which governed, but the wording is virtually the same).
The Judge held that Section 35(A) could not apply, because this was not a claim for a debt or damages. So far as the equitable jurisdiction of the court was concerned the Judge held on the basis of the very old case of Wright v Southwood, decided in 1827, that no such claim was permissible in the circumstances of this case. So far as Section 66(a) Solicitor Act 1974 is concerned the Judge held that money was not ‘improperly retained’ by the solicitor where all that the solicitor did was to retain money paid for bills pending the decision of the Costs Judge as to whether or not those bills were payable in full or in part. Finally, so far as the Solicitor Accounts Rules were concerned, the Judge held firstly that they only applied to money held in client account, and the evidence was that the monies paid by the company went straight into office account, because they were in settlement of bills. In any event however the Judge held that the Defendants terms of business, which expressly excluded the right of the claimant to interest, survived, because the contract was not, as suggested by Mr Webb, void ab initio.
The Judge disposed of the question of the additional costs claimed on the basis that the decision of the Costs Judge was well within the margin of permissible error, and should not be interfered with.
The Judged awarded costs to the Defendants of andpound;4,500, but refused their application to join Miss T as a party, and to make an order for costs against her on the basis that it was her misrepresentations which caused all the expense of the appeal to be incurred.


[2001] EW Costs 9, [2001] EWHC 9010 (Costs)




England and Wales


Updated: 08 June 2022; Ref: scu.185949