Richard Buxton (Solicitors) v Mills-Owens and Another: CA 23 Feb 2010

The solicitors felt that the instructions received from their client were to pursue points which neither they nor counsel thought were properly arguable. They withdrew from the case, and now appealed against a refusal of their costs on the basis that they having once accepted a retainer a solicitor could not withdraw.
Held: The appeal succeeded. At common law, a solicitor may terminate his retainer before the end of a case on reasonable notice and if he has a ‘reasonable ground for refusing to act further for the client’. The common law rule that a solicitor is entitled to be paid for all the work he has done prior to termination if he terminates for good reason has been law for almost 200 years.
The solicitors had good reason for withdrawing from a case where they were instructed to put forward a case he believed was ‘bound to fail’. ‘if an advocate considers that a point is properly arguable, he should argue it without reservation. If he does not consider it to be properly arguable, he should refuse to argue it. He should not advance a submission but signal to the judge that he thinks that it is weak or hopeless by using the coded language ‘I am instructed that’. Such coded language is well understood as conveying that the advocate expects it to be rejected. In my judgment, such language should be avoided.’


Dyson LJ, Maurice Kay LJ


[2010] EWCA Civ 122, [2010] WLR (D) 49, [2010] 17 EG 96, [2010] 3 Costs LR 421, [2010] CP Rep 26, [2010] 1 WLR 1997, [2010] 9 EG 166


Bailii, Times, WLRD


Solicitors’ Practice Rules 1990 812.12


England and Wales


CitedUnderwood, Son and Piper v Lewis CA 11-May-1894
Solicitors had declined to continue to act for their client before the litigation in which they were acting had been completed. They brought an action for the amount of their bill of costs for work done to date. The trial judge held that a solicitor . .
Appeal FromRichard Buxton (Solicitors) v Mills-Owens QBD 28-Jul-2008
The solicitors appealed against refusal of their costs. They had begun to act but withdrawn part way through the case. The costs judge had said that they had been wrong to do so. Though the client’s instructions would be disastrous, they were not . .
CitedVansandau and Brown v Browne 24-Nov-1832
An attorney is not compelled to proceed to the end of a suit in order to be entitled to his costs, but may, upon reasonable cause and reasonable notice, abandon the conduct of the suit, and in such case may recover his costs for the period during . .
CitedCresswell v Byron 24-Dec-1807
A Solicitor, having declined to act for his client, has no lien for his costs upon a fund in Court. In this cause a petition was presented by a Solicitor; stating, that in 1789 he was employed as Solicitor for the Plaintiff ; and continued so to act . .
CitedSkjevesland v Geveran Trading Co Ltd CA 30-Oct-2002
The debtor’s wife was personally acquainted with counsel for the petitioner in his bankruptcy examination. He sought that it be set aside.
Held: Whereas a judge had a duty to be independent of the parties, no such duty fell on counsel. A court . .

Cited by:

CitedFrench v Carter Lemon Camerons Llp CA 3-Sep-2012
The appellant had instructed the defendant solicitors in litigation. On beginning to act in person she sought an order to require the solicitors to deliver the case papers to her. They asserted a lien on them until their account was paid. She now . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Legal Professions, Costs

Updated: 23 March 2022; Ref: scu.401678