Beresford to face tribunal over miners’ claims

Jim Beresford of Beresfords Solicitors, will face the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) in relation to his firm’s handling of coal miners’ compensation claims.

Beresford to face tribunal over miners' claimsThe UK’s richest lawyer, Jim Beresford of Doncaster-based Beresfords Solicitors, is to go in front of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) next month in relation to his firm’s handling of coal miners’ compensation claims.

Beresford, along with partner Douglas Smith, will face the SDT on Monday 17 November in a hearing that is expected to last between five and eight days.

The SRA has been investigating a number of firms for their handling of British Coal compensation claims after firms made massive sums of money through case referral fees.

As reported on (9 June) an SRA insider said it projected the wrong image of the legal profession for firms to be reaping large fees out of cases relating to miners suffering conditions such as respiratory disease and vibration white finger.

Earlier this year it was revealed that Beresford was the UK’s richest lawyer in the year to September 2006, having taken home a total of £16.8m in the 12-month period. The next richest lawyer, Avalon Solicitors’ Andrew Nulty, took home £13m in the same period. Avalon was also involved in handling miners compensation claims.

Energy and climate change minister Mike O’Brien today said in a written Parliamentary answer that by 5 October 2008 Beresfords had handled 80,320 claims for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and 11,619 for vibration white finger.

The Government received more than 760,000 claims from coalminers and families who lost their loved ones from chronic illnesses due to British Coal’s lack of safety standards since the 1970s.

The Government has awarded more than £3.4bn in compensation, with the total rising to over £4.2bn once legal fees are included. Almost a fifth of the money paid out from the £7.5bn compensation scheme has been made to firms for handling the coalminers’ claims at an average fee of £2,125 per case.

Claims management companies had struck deals to refer cases to firms for a set fee. This money was being taken from the miners’ compensation instead of the cash that the Government paid for handling the claims.

Last year a High Court ruling said that firms that profited from handling miners’ compensation claims may have to pay back tens of millions of pounds to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) (TheLawyer.com17 April 2007).

Beresfords managing partner Martin Ryan, who is running the case for his
firm, said the proceedings will be strenuously defended.

He added: “There’s a political background to these proceedings, not only for Beresfords but for all the miners’ firms involved, with these cases not being sent to the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal until now. Both Jim Beresford and Doug Smith have done nothing wrong, which is why this will be strenuously defended.”

The Solicitors Regulation Authority declined to comment on the SDT hearing.