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Beresford loses High Court appeal

8 December 2009

Jim Beresford and Douglas Smith, former partners at Doncaster-based Beresfords, have lost their High Court appeal against the Law Society and the SRA.

The two men were struck off by the SDT in December last year for professional misconduct in the handling of miners’ compensation claims.

Giving judgment on behalf of the court in Beresford and Smith v The SRA and the Law Society [2009] EWHC 3155 (Admin), the president of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Anthony May, rejected their appeal on each of the eight findings in question.

Sir Anthony also rejected Beresford and Smith’s appeal against the full costs order for the ten-day hearing and the preceding investigation made against them .

Together with the costs of the High Court appeal, the bill is expected to total over £300,000.

“Exercising, if it is appropriate, our own discretion, we are not persuaded that the tribunal’s undiscounted costs order was wrong,” Sir Anthony said.

“Taken in the round, the tribunal made against Beresfords a cumulative series of findings of very serious misconduct on a huge scale and in relation to thousands of vulnerable clients in proceedings which were expensively contested in nearly every particular.

“The allegations which Beresfords successfully defended were but a small fraction of a very serious whole. We consider that an undiscounted costs order was justified.”

Mr Justice Silber and Mr Justice David Clarke also heard the case.

The eight allegations against the men found by the SDT to be proven related to failing to act in the best interests of clients, acting where there was a conflict of interest between the client and their own interests and failing to give sufficient information to clients about costs. Further allegations related to sharing fees with a non-solicitor and improperly releasing confidential information about clients to a third party.

Beresford and Smith were also found to have entered into conditional fee agreements and contigency fee agreements in circumstances that were not in the best interests of clients and accepted instructions in breach of the referral code.

Antony Townsend, chief executive of the SRA, commented: “The SRA has vigorously pursued the solicitors who betrayed the trust placed in them by their clients in this case and other miners’ compensation cases.”

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Risk & Compliance Regulators Legal Aid