Practice and Procedure

Costs order appeal win over client no-show

PUBLISHED February 12, 2007

Court Challenge: victory for solicitor who disputed imposition of wasted costs order

A Manchester solicitor won an appeal against a wasted costs order last week after he withdrew from a case because his client refused to appear in court.

Harry Boodhoo, senior partner at Harry Boodhoo & Co, told the Gazette that the Court of Appeal judgment should encourage other solicitors to ?stay strong? in the face of judicial pressure.

Mr Boodhoo was instructed to represent a client on charges of theft, burglary, dangerous driving and driving without insurance at Chester Crown Court last June. However, his client failed to attend and left a message at the law firm saying that he had no intention of coming to trial.

Mr Boodhoo took advice from the Law Society and withdrew from the case, despite an assertion by the Recorder that he was ?duty bound? to continue. The Recorder, who then had to grant an adjournment, claimed the solicitor?s reasons for withdrawing were ?fatuous? and ?frivolous?, imposing an ?825 wasted costs order against him.

Counsel for the Law Society, which made representations on Mr Boodhoo?s behalf at the appeal, said that to represent the client without instructions would have been ?a fig leaf to fairness?. He said that where a client voluntarily fails to attend trial, the solicitor should remain and conduct a contested case ?only in those exceptional circumstances? where it would be in the client?s best interests.

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that criminal trials often assume a different shape from that contemplated in the papers, and found that Mr Boodhoo had been entitled to withdraw, adding that a lawyer?s independence should not be undermined by ?illegitimate pressures?. Lord Justice Pill said that ?fundamental questions of trust between lawyers and litigants? arise when defendants absent themselves.

Mr Boodhoo added: ?Solicitors need to stay strong in the light of unwarranted judicial pressure.?

The Solicitors Regulation Authority?s rules and ethics committee is shortly to consider the issue of absent defendants.