The Court has denied a lien which a solicitor firm sought to hold over its client file, where their client owed them outstanding fees.
The solicitor had previously acted for the client in a claim for personal injury. Their client was made several offers to settle their injury claim, including one as high as £200,000. However the client rejected these offers and pursued the matter to trial, where they were only awarded damages of just over £11,000.
Subsequently, the client brought a claim against his solicitor. He alleged that he had not been properly advised that there was a risk that he might receive less than the settlement offers if he proceeded to trial. He also alleged that he had not been properly advised that the court might prefer the defendant’s expert evidence.
The solicitor denied these claims, and continued to pursue their outstanding fees from the case. The background to the Court’s decision was therefore the client requesting their file in connection with their purported negligence claim, and the solicitor denying access to the file on the basis that fees remained unpaid.
The judge rejected this basis for non-disclosure of the file however, ruling that the client had an arguable case which they could only properly understand by considering the documents in the client file. The judge concluded that it was “difficult to see how the case could properly be tried without the file being disclosed”.
James Burgoyne of Brunel Professions said: “This is an unwelcome decision from the Court, as all too often file requests represent attempts by a claimant to artificially construct a claim against a professional for unmeritorious reasons, commonly referred to as “fishing expeditions”. A lien on a file could be simply lifted by the client paying the fees owed, and they would then be able to access that file; as such liens did act as a filter on spurious attempts by clients to avoid paying fees, and tested the belief of the client in their own allegations.”
Burges Salmon solicitors have posted an article on the decision which can be found here.