Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED March 26, 2003

Where there had been an agreement between the parties that there would be a detailed assessment of solicitors' costs, such agreement was as powerful a "special circumstance" as it was possible to conceive for ordering a detailed assessment under s.70(3) Solicitors Act 1974.Claimant's ('C') appeal from an order of Master Campbell of 1 November 2002 dismissing C's application for an order that certain of the defendant's ('D') bills be subjected to a detailed assessment under s.70 Solicitors Act 1974. C was a former client of D. The application before the master was issued more than 12 months after delivery of the relevant bills. Before the master, C submitted inter alia that: (i) it had expressed its discontent throughout with the bills delivered; (ii) D had held funds deposited to the credit of C throughout; and (iii) by correspondence there had been an agreement between the parties that there should be a detailed assessment of the relevant charges and that D had agreed not to take any point as to the elapse of time for that assessment. The master rejected all three of C's arguments and concluded that there were no special circumstances by which the court would exercise its discretion to order a detailed assessment. On appeal, C contended that the master had made a fundamental error in his analysis of the meaning and effect of the relevant correspondence concerning the alleged agreement. D argued inter alia that there was no contract between the parties and even if there was it was silent as to time.HELD: (1) The master rightly rejected points (i) and (ii) as constituting special circumstances within s.70(3) Solicitors Act 1974. (2) It was implicit in the agreement that there should be a detailed assessment of D's bills and D had unconditionally affirmed its agreement that there would be a detailed assessment. C's failure to apply for a detailed assessment until June 2002 was probably a breach of that agreement but that did not mean D could consider itself unconditionally discharged from the agreement. Therefore it followed that before the master there was an agreement by which D had agreed there should be a detailed assessment of its bills and such agreement had not been discharged. The master had reached the wrong conclusion. (3) The existence of the arrangement was sufficient to constitute a "special circumstance" under s.70(3) of the Act. Where parties came before the court on an application for an order for detailed assessment and where there subsisted an agreement that there should be such an assessment, that was as powerful a special circumstance as it was possible to conceive for ordering the detailed assessment. (4) Although C's delay in issuing the application was inexplicable, it had not caused any prejudice to D and accordingly the court exercised its discretion and ordered a detailed assessment. Re Boycott (1885) 29 ChD 571 and Sandars v Isaacs (1971) 1 WLR 240 considered.Appeal allowed. Detailed assessment ordered.