Former Beresfords lawyers lose appeal on miners ruling

Jim Beresford and Douglas Smith, formerly of Beresfords Solicitors, were struck off by the SDT last December after they became embroiled in the miners compensation scandal (15 December 2008).

The duo were found guilty of failing to act in the interests of their clients by taking a cut of payments made to sick miners under the Government’s British Coal Compensation Scheme.

Instructed directly by the appellants, Alan Gourgey QC of 11 Kings Bench Walk appealed seven of the nine SDT rulings against Beresford and Smith.

Gourgey argued that the SDT had failed to properly consider the factual matters of the case against the pair. It was suggested that because the SDT did not to specifically reject evidence submitted by Berefords at the original hearing its ruling should be overturned.

President of the Queen’s Bench Division Anthony May led the rejection of the appeal.

The High Court ruled: “There is, in our view, no persuasive case that the Tribunal failed properly to consider factual matters which are relied on in this appeal.  In the course of its lengthy findings, the Tribunal set out extensively each party’s opening and closing submissions and the oral evidence that was given.”

The appellants also attempted to overturn the SDT’s ruling that they were guilty of unbeffiting conduct because they were under no obligation to advise clients that other solicitors would take their case for a lower fee and that it was not for solicitors to put the client’s interest first when it came to costs.

It was also argued that the SDT could not decide whether the miners in question were intellectually vulnerable on the basis of evidence submitted by three miners.

The High Court rejected all these points. It also rejected attempts to overturn the costs order awarded in favour of the SDT. 

“The Tribunal made against Beresfords a cumulative series of findings of very serious misconduct on a huge scale and in relation to thousands of vulnerable clients in proceedings which were expensively contested in nearly every particular,” the court ruled.

“The allegations which Beresfords successfully defended were but a small fraction of a very serious whole.  We consider that an undiscounted costs order was justified.”

In 2007 The Lawyer revealed that Beresford was the highest-earning lawyer of the 2005-06 financial year, taking home £16.8m, the bulk of which came fromadvising sick coalminers (9 April 2007).

Fountain Court’s Timothy Dutton QC was instructed by Russell Cooke for the SRA and the Law Society.