Doncaster-based law firm Beresfords Solicitors yesterday denied exploiting sick miners and claimed it acted properly when earning millions of pounds from its clients.
As reporter on TheLawyer.com on Monday, the firm’s name partner Jim Beresford and his colleague Douglas Smith have been hauled up in front of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal accused of 11 counts of misconduct in relation to the coalminers’ compensation scheme (17 November 2008).
The men are accused of breaching the solicitors’ code of conduct by engaging in contingency fees and conditional fee agreements despite the Government paying legal costs in successful miner cases.
The duo’s lead counsel Alan Gourgey QC of 11 Stone Buildings told the tribunal: “We say that there is absolutely nothing wrong in a firm earning substantial fees from the conduct of its business.”
Gourgey claims the firm could have faced bankruptcy if the win rate had been lower because of the time and money invested in researching the cases.
Under the coalminers’ compensation schemes for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and vibration white finger (VWF), the Government pays the legal fees in successful cases, with miners who are unsuccessful not having to pay costs.
The tribunal was told that Beresfords received a letter from the Law Society in July 2005 which suggested the firm may have been in breach of rules.
Gourgey said: “Conditional fee agreements on the scheme claims were all entered into many years ago and it must be remembered, and is often forgotten, that they amounted to less than 1 per cent of the scheme claims conducted by Beresfords.”
The silk continued that Beresfords had stopped contingency fee agreements in June 2002 – long before the Law Society’s letter and argued contingencies were not against the law. He said the firm’s “view was correct and was reasonably held at the time”.
Gourgey claimed: “It’s very easy in a case such as this to judge them [Beresford and Smith] with the benefit of hindsight, with the benefit of material which was not available to the respondents at the time.”
The hearing continues.