Defending the indefensible

Write to: The Editor, The Lawyer, 50 Poland Street, London W1V 4AX, fax 0171 734 0534, e-mail lawyer.edit@chiron.co.uk, DX44700 Soho Square.

I write in reply to the letter from Elizabeth Mullins headed "SIF Replies" (The Lawyer, 18 November). The letter suggests my article, "Troubled Indemnity" (The Lawyer, 28 October), is factually inaccurate.

Ms Mullins states that my complaint relating to unnecessary and disproportionate costs is misplaced. Specifically she complains that I am illustrating my article with an automatic strike out case in which the costs are as yet unresolved and that the costs to which I refer are "well below the figure quoted".

It appears we disagree as to the meaning of "well below". The reality is that this claim settled for £6,750 and our costs breakdown is £6,292. Furthermore should it be necessary to have costs taxed, the taxing fee will result in the costs claim rising to £6,767. This of course ignores the cost which will be incurred should taxation be necessary. When I referred to an overall costs figure of £10,000 I was, of course, including an estimate for SIF's costs. If it is the case (which I very much doubt) that SIF's costs are less than £2,234, I am happy to stand corrected. The reality is that costs will exceed the value of the claim, and it is plain that they are not "well below" the figure quoted.

Furthermore, these costs were only incurred because SIF refused to admit liability or negotiate a prompt settlement of the claim. Neither was a payment into court made, so the client was never under any pressure to settle.

The bitter truth is that SIF's stated aims are not being met. Even in its newsletter (SIF in focus autumn 1997) it claims "early payments [into court] are used to limit the Fund's costs exposure". This simply does not happen. Typically my experience and that of my colleagues is that payments into court are made very late in the day (often just before trial) or are wholly inadequate. Take for example one recent case where SIF paid £1,000 into court and much later settled my client's claim a few days before trial for £120,000.

I really think that Ms Mullins is trying to defend the indefensible which, of course, as my article made clear, is one of the reasons why the profession as a whole has to dig so deep into its pockets in order to fund SIF's costs and the costs of those clients that unfortunately suffer loss as a result of their solicitor's negligence.

Graham S Balchin

Bolt Burden, London N1.