Ruling paves way for tax challenges

LONDON firm John Singh & Co has lost its High Court fight against swingeing taxation of a legal aid bill for defence at a Southwark Crown Court fraud trial.

The case represents a signpost ruling that the decisions of taxation masters can be susceptible to judicial review, although Mr Justice Latham made it clear the circumstances for such moves to be successful would be “extremely rare”.

The High Court action by Singhs followed taxation of a u98,784 bill down to u45,429. The firm had claimed u89,595 on the basis of 1,286 hours of preparation but the determining officer allowed only 578 hours, reducing the amount for preparation to u37,772.

The figure was later raised by a further u2,369 when a determination officer, on redetermination, allowed an additional 35.75 hours preparation time.

Singhs went on to appeal to deputy taxing master Pollard against the final taxation but he dismissed its appeal and also refused the firm a certificate, saying that the appeal raised points of principle of general importance entitling it to take its taxation challenge on to the High Court.

Now Singhs' application for judicial review of Pollard's decision which blocked it going to the High Court has also been rejected. But Mr Justice Latham refused to close the door to possible judicial review of taxing masters' decisions.

The Supreme Court Taxing Office has previously argued there is no jurisdiction to review such decisions on the basis that a taxing master is an officer of the Supreme Court.

But Mr Justice Latham said the court did have jurisdiction to supervise the functions of a taxing master.

However, he also added: “Since the regulations provide a self-contained code, the occasions upon which it would be appropriate for this court to intervene are likely to be extremely rare.”

In the case of Singhs he upheld the decision of the deputy taxing master, who in refusing Singhs' bid to overturn the cuts imposed on it, had said he considered that time spent on preparation of the case had been “excessive”.

Singhs argued that its case raised questions of general importance which entitled the firm to take its challenge to the High Court.