Divorcee claims board interfered

A MAN who claims he was ordered to pay an “excessive” bill for legal services after the Legal Aid Board allegedly interfered in a trial will this week lodge an official complaint against the body.

Alan Brown's firm Jim McKenzie & Co claims the LAB should have remained impartial in an action against Brown by his former solicitors Manches & Co.

Manches sued Brown for the balance of a £65,000 bill presented to him in 1991 for work carried out on a variation application for a divorce settlement.

Following a subsequent inquiry solicitors acting for Brown's legally-aided ex-wife agreed to pay a £40,000 share of the bill, leaving him with the balance.

He later secured legal aid to cover a counter-action against Manches, alleging that the firm had billed excessively and failed to advise on costs and the availability of legal aid.

But, in a judgment handed down in the High Court earlier this month, Mr Justice Bennett rejected Brown's claim against Manches' and ordered him to pay the firm's bill and costs.

Brown is now set to file a complaint with the Legal Aid Board and the benefits agency saying that statements made by the LAB at the hearing contributed to Mr Justice Bennett's finding. He is also considering the possibility of lodging an appeal against the decision.

The LAB told the High Court recent assessments of Brown's income showed it had erred in granting any legal aid.

“As the LAB have stated that they allegedly made a mistake in granting Mr Brown legal aid it now stands that unless he can show cause he will have to pay Manches' costs in this action,” said McKenzie's principal Jim McKenzie.

“I think that the LAB overstepped the mark in terms of their involvement in the action and they should be made accountable for the mistake they're saying they made.”

A spokeswoman for the LAB said that although the board could not comment on individual cases there were occasions when further investigations into a client's financial circumstances meant funding was withdrawn.

“If the benefits agency confirms that someone is eligible we will grant legal aid,” said the spokeswoman. “But if it transpires that the person isn't eligible after a more thorough investigation is done, we will have to withdraw legal aid.”