Solicitors must represent clients who reject advice, High Court rules




Solicitors Journal


Mills-Owens - solicitors costs on statutory appeal

Leading environmental lawyer Richard Buxton has said he is likely to appeal against a High Court ruling that he was wrong to stop representing a client who rejected his advice.

Buxton incurred the wrath of Lords Hoffman and Hope earlier this year, who accused him of abusing the procedure of the House of Lords (see "SJ News" April 22 2008).

This time the High Court was more sympathetic. Giving judgment in Buxton v Mills-Owens [2008] EWHC 1831 (QB), Mr Justice Mackay said:

"Mr Buxton was in a most difficult position. He went to very great lengths to explain the problems that the client faced to him and persuade him to adopt a stance which was more likely to result in success than failure.

"But the issue is whether the client's insistence on doing it his way put Mr Buxton as a solicitor in breach of the rules or principles of conduct, which the cost judge accurately summarised as not to ‘do anything improper.' "

Mr Justice Mackay said he had taken specialist advice from Martin Cockx, senior partner of Manchester personal injury firm Amelans, as an experienced litigation solicitor.

He went on: "In my judgment, at the end of the day if a client who is prepared to pay for a case to be advanced, and who wants the claim advanced on a particular basis which does not involve impropriety on the part of the solicitor or counsel, then it is no answer for the solicitor to say that he believes it is bound to fail, therefore he will not do it."

Since the judgment was published, Buxton said he had received sympathetic responses from solicitors.

He said his client, Huw Llewelyn Mills-Owens, had gone on to represent himself in the action, a statutory appeal against a grant of planning permission in the New Forest, and lost.

Buxton said he was concerned about the principles at stake.

"The law as it stands is that if you a terminate a contract with a client without good cause, you get nothing. This has no place in a modern litigation system.

"Determining a retainer is not something solicitors do capriciously. It's rather like a marriage. When there is irretrievable breakdown, you have to part.

"But the law seems to be that even though you may have done your level best and tried, as we did here, to keep things together, and got your client as far as you have, as we did here virtually to the court door, you get nothing.

"We lost to the tune of £15,000, which is a lot for a small firm, but one can see larger sums could be at stake and the issue causing even more hardship than it has to us."