Court allows clients to bust tax deadline

Clients who fail to apply to have their legal bill taxed within the statutory time limit can still challenge the costs, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

In a landmark decision, the court rejected the argument of City-based shipping and commodities firm, Turner & Co, that its client had blown the chance to dispute the bill because he did not apply for taxation under the Solicitors Act 1974 within a year.

Lord Justice Evans said nothing in this, or any subsequent act, excluded the need for Turner & Co to prove its fees are fair.

He added that the client – a Spanish commodity trader – retained a common law right to have the reasonableness of the charges assessed by the court.

Turner & Co partner, Roger Spencer says: “This decision makes the statute meaningless. The statute lays down a procedure for disputing solicitors' bills and now the Court of Appeal says it can be totally ignored.”

Spencer confirms that Turner & Co has petitioned the House of Lords for leave to appeal.

Holman Fenwick & Willan partner, Patricia Francis, who represents the commodity trader who made the challenge, declined to comment while the case is ongoing.