Judge overrules tribunal’s decision to slash SRA costs

A judge has overruled the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s decision to slash the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s costs claim in a strike-off case. The regulator had sought £22,800 in the case last January but the tribunal awarded only £5,000. 

Ruling on an appeal by the SRA, a deputy High Court judge has now assessed the costs payable at £19,468. 

The costs order followed a hearing at which the SDT struck off Daniel Whittingham for dishonesty. Whittingham did not appear and was not represented. The SRA’s schedule of costs included £600 for the SRA investigation and £18,500 plus VAT for legal costs. 

Allowing the SRA’s appeal, Neil Cameron KC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, said the SDT had erred on a point of law.  He found it was ‘clear that, in its judgment, the SDT did not consider the matters set out at rule 43(4) [of The Solicitors (Disciplinary Proceedings) Rules 2019]’. The rule requires the tribunal to take certain factors into account when assessing costs. 

The judge said relevant matters included Whittingham’s conduct; whether the tribunal’s directions and time limits were complied with; whether the amount of time spent on the matter was proportionate and reasonable; and whether any hourly rate and the amount of disbursements claimed was proportionate.

He added: ‘In my judgment, by failing to consider those matters, the SDT erred in the exercise of its discretion, and fell into an error of law.’

The judge exercised discretion in assessing costs payable, rather than remit the matter to the SDT again. He said he agreed with the tribunal that ‘the fact the hearing lasted for one day and not two days was a relevant factor’ when assessing costs.

He assessed costs at £19,468, deducting £2,000 which would have been spent on the refresher and deducting the associate solicitor’s fee for the second day.

At an earlier hearing, the SRA told the court the £5,000 costs order made by the SDT was ‘very far below anything that the SRA has previous experience of in a case like this’.




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