This website uses cookies

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. By using our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy

Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

ACL suggests revival of ‘remuneration certificate’ to challenge low-value bills following Belsner

ACL suggests revival of ‘remuneration certificate’ to challenge low-value bills following Belsner


The 1990s procedure was widely used before it was scrapped in 2009

The Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) has suggested the revival of the ‘remuneration certificate' – a procedure used in the 1990s – as a way for clients to challenge solicitors’ bills of less than £50,000 while avoiding court.

It has pitched the idea of working with the Law Society and Legal Ombudsman to the Civil Justice Council last month as part of its costs review. The review allowed stakeholders to make supplementary submissions solely on the issues raised by the Court of Appeal’s decision in Belsner and the ACL suggested a modernised version of the procedure should be re-introduced, supported by expert costs lawyers.

The court, led by the Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos, deprecated the increasing number of bill disputes over relatively small amounts of money that reach court, and said they were better suited for the Legal Ombudsman.

In its submission, the ACL reminded the Council of the procedure under the Solicitors’ (Non-Contentious Business) Remuneration Order 1994, revoked in 2009. Under this, a solicitor's costs had to be fair and reasonable, having regard to all the circumstances of the case; since then, solicitor/own-client assessments have largely proceeded to the High Court.

“This is not sensible, especially on the scale of potential new cases following wide-ranging marketing campaign by firms such as An alternative needs to be found,” said the response.

The ACL questioned whether the Legal Ombudsman had capacity to deal with an increased volume of cases. It suggested the time taken to resolve costs disputes could delay the Ombudsman handling other complaints, which would only add to the already significant pressure it is under to reduce the backlog of complaints.

Under the 1994 order, a client could seek a ‘remuneration certificate’ from the Law Society where the total costs were less than £50,000. In appropriate cases, the Law Society would issue a certificate which stated what it believed would be a fair and reasonable amount for the client to pay.

The ACL said: “This methodology for dealing with solicitors/own-client disputes could be modernised and reintroduced. The ACL would propose a form of collaboration with the Law Society and Legal Ombudsman whereby an independent panel of Cost Lawyers and other cost specialists could deal with lower-value disputes on the papers.

“This would provide a clear process for clients whilst ensuring that significant resources are not expended by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.”

The ACL also called for the provisions on pricing and costs in the SRA codes of conduct to be strengthened, so clients received an estimate of what may be recovered as well. The ACL proposed a template with figures for the likely damages, likely total costs, likely costs to be recovered and an estimate for any reductions.

ACL vice-chair David Bailey-Vella commented: “The Court of Appeal in Belsner made very clear that it did not want disputes over lower-value bills to clog up the courts. But there are questions over whether the Legal Ombudsman is the best alternative.

“Using the expertise and specialism of ACL members – who are fully regulated lawyers – to reintroduce an updated remuneration certificate procedure offers a compromise that would work for both clients and solicitors alike.”