Jersey law firm denies overbilling Parish of St Helier for publicly funded work
Following lengthy political debate, allegations of overbilling by Jersey law firm Olsens by up to 300 per cent are due to be scrutinised by a former senior costs master.
The ex-English senior costs master, Martin Ellis, will soon visit the island to investigate Olsens' £150,000 bill.
An independent analysis of one of the firm's publicly funded cases states that it should have billed between £50,000 and £75,000.
The report questioned why the firm felt it necessary to employ 16 fee-earners and charge excessive hourly fees on the case, in which it defended two former police officers. In response, Olsens claimed to have had only 10 lawyers on the case at any one time and thoroughly refutes the overcharging allegations.
According to a report produced by independent costs expert Jim Diamond, advocates' rates were between £300 and £325 an hour - equivalent to the amount charged by City lawyers for private commercial work. Hourly rates for secretaries and paralegals were £90 and £120 respectively.
Clive Barton, a partner at international chartered accountancy firm Moore Stephens, said at a meeting at the Parish of St Helier, on behalf of which Olsens was originally instructed, that £27,000 of Olsens' fees were not accounted for in terms of names and narratives.
Anthony Olsen, the firm's managing partner, said it has since accounted for this.
He added: "Mr Diamond's audit said there may have been duplications in our charging. After about one month of going through the files we found no evidence of this. We found one misposting worth £137.50, which should have been charged to another client."
Olsens was invited by the Jersey Law Society to attend an adjudication into its bill, but the firm declined.
The society has no authority to force the firm to attend. Olsens said it did not attend because it believed the matter to have been finished with, as it had been paid in full.
The parish still has the option of referring the matter to the Royal Court of Jersey for taxation to resolve the costs dispute.
The Jersey Law Society is not an incorporated body and thus has no statutory powers to regulate or discipline, although the island's legislation committee is currently looking at drafting legislation to facilitate this.