Oliver Fisher (A Firm) v Legal Services Commission: Admn 10 May 2002

Gilliatt A solicitors’ firm had been paid for work done in a case by the Legal Services Commission. The LSC had a right to a statutory charge against a property which had been preserved as a result of the proceedings. The solicitors should have reported to the LSC that they had recovered the property by December 1999. In February 2000 the firm applied to have the legal aid certificate discharged. It was not until August 2000 that they made the report to the LSC about the recovery of property giving rise to the statutory charge. The LSC did not actually receive the report until mid September. The LSC then applied to register a caution against the property. In the meantime the litigant had put the property on the market and a prospective purchaser had lodged an official search with the land registry. The upshot was that the purchaser’s application to register title had priority over the LSC’s application to register a charge. The property was transferred to the purchasers. By the time the LSC were told their charge had not been registered, the solicitors had been paid and the litigant had been paid by the purchaser. The LSC then tried to claw back the money paid out for costs from other sums claimed by the solicitors in respect of different cases.
Held: Despite the fact that the solicitors had not done everything they should have done promptly, there was no actual power, on a construction of the regulations on the part of the LSC to take back the money.
Scott Baker J said: ‘[Counsel for the Commission] submits that . . Section 4(1)(b) of the Legal Aid Act 1988 gives the defendants a statutory power to operate a running account. This however does not in my judgment give a right to relocate or move money that has been earned and paid in case ‘A’ to case ‘B’ or to recoup money.’
Mr Justice Scott Baker
[2002] EWHC 1017 (Admin)
Bailii
Legal Aid Act 1988 4(1)(b)
England and Wales

Updated: 19 April 2021; Ref: scu.172254