Clients who fail to apply to have their legal bill taxed within the statutory time limit can still challenge the costs, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

In a landmark decision, the court rejected the argument of City-based shipping and commodities firm, Turner & Co, that its client had blown the chance to dispute the bill because he did not apply for taxation under the Solicitors Act 1974 within a year.

Lord Justice Evans said nothing in this, or any subsequent act, excluded the need for Turner & Co to prove its fees are fair.

He added that the client – a Spanish commodity trader – retained a common law right to have the reasonableness of the charges assessed by the court.

Turner & Co partner, Roger Spencer says: “This decision makes the statute meaningless. The statute lays down a procedure for disputing solicitors’ bills and now the Court of Appeal says it can be totally ignored.”

Spencer confirms that Turner & Co has petitioned the House of Lords for leave to appeal.

Holman Fenwick & Willan partner, Patricia Francis, who represents the commodity trader who made the challenge, declined to comment while the case is ongoing.