Lawyers’ fees in Jersey are too high and “exhibit all the characteristics of a cartel”, according to one States Member, who wants an investigation.
St Helier deputy Michael Higgins asked Jersey’s economic development minister Alan Maclean during a session of the States of Jersey on 12 October if he would refer the issue of lawyers’ fees to the Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority (JCRA).
“Will the minister refer to the [JCRA] the question of lawyers’ fees in Jersey, which are not only exceptionally high but exhibit all the characteristics of a cartel; and if he will not refer the question, why will the minister not do so?” asked Higgins.
The question came after The Lawyer published research on Channel Islands lawyers’ hourly rates by costs lawyer Jim Diamond (The Lawyer, 4 October).
Maclean has since stated that he will not ask the JCRA to investigate, adding that lawyers’ fees are only high because of the complex and specialist nature of the work. But Higgins has said he is dissatisfied with this response and is considering putting the matter to the Economic Affairs Scrutiny Panel, which Higgins chairs.
He is also considering bringing a proposition to amend the law to bring in protection with regard to the way costs are taxed.
Higgins’ concerns are directed primarily at high street firms, but he also has issues with the larger commercial firms.
“Jersey’s an international finance centre,” said Higgins. “If fees are uncompetitive they could price themselves out of the market, which isn’t good for the economy.”
According to Diamond’s research, a partner at a top-tier Jersey firm charges between £400 and £475 an hour.