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Devonshires Solicitors LLP v (1) Elbishlawi (2) Lam Developments Ltd

11 March, 2021

[2021] EWHC 173 (Comm)
This decision contains useful guidance for claims concerning unpaid solicitors fees.  The Claimant sought summary judgment as the period for challenging its bills under the Solicitors Act 1974 (“the 1974 Act”) had expired and there were no special circumstances justifying an extension of time.  The Defendants argued that summary judgment could not be given as (1) with one exception, the bills were not final statute bills (2) the Defendants had a right to assessment at common law, irrespective of the 1974 Act.

Butcher J gave summary judgment for the Claimant.  He found inter alia that (1) the Defence did not allege the bills were not final statute bills (an allegation which should have been pleaded) (2) whilst there was a jurisdiction to order assessment at common law irrespective of the 1974 Act, the onus was on the client to challenge specific items where a breakdown had been provided (applying and clarifying Turner v Palomo [2000] 1 WLR 37).  In relation to two of the six invoices at issue, sufficient detail had been given.  As the Defendants had not challenged specific items in respect of those invoices, the Court gave summary judgment for the amounts claimed in them.  Summary judgment was also given on the other invoices, with the amounts to be assessed at common law.

Daniel Burkitt