Solicitors costs, just exceptionally high or culpable overcharging?






Andy Hopkin, Browne Jacobson LLP, solicitors


Andrew (Andy) Hopkin, Browne Jacobson LLP, solicitors





The NE Board has corporate responsibility for ensuring that Natural England fulfils the aims and objectives set by the Secretary of State. The main roles of the Board are to establish Natural England’s strategy, approve direction and review performance of the organisation. As a local and national authority, they are bound by Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, being that they must not violate any of the Articles of the European Convention. In particular they must act without discrimination and fairly, such as to comply with Articles 14 and 6.


There have though been cases where bias has been a feature of case handling. We are following a live case at the moment, being handled by Cath Jackson and Sue Beale, where permissions had been agreed and a landowner at great financial cost made adjustments, but then having agreed those adjustments would be acceptable, Natural England then sought to prosecute the landowner, even where he had permission from the local council for certain works, and there was no danger to any wildlife being caused by other works, which were to protect grazing animals, that otherwise might escape and either drown, or become a danger to nearby road users.


The burning question is, do any members of staff or the Board have any financial interests in the Wartling area? We will be writing to Natural England seeking assurances and clarification if necessary.





FORMER solicitor has been struck off and ordered to pay £35,000 in costs for dishonestly overcharging clients.

The sanctions were made in June against Eric Donald Hunter, formerly of Blythe Liggins in Leamington, following hearings held by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Mr Hunter, who lives in Warwick, has now lodged an appeal against the sanctions.

The tribunal found allegations made against Mr Hunter proven that during his time as a partner at Blythe Liggins he had transferred funds from the client account to the office account on probate matters, prepared bills of costs on probate matters that were excessive, failed to properly send bills of costs to entitled parties and prepared round sum bills in probate matters, all of which were contrary to the Solicitors Accounts Rules.

In one probate case given for overcharging, the bills of costs over a five-and-a-half-year period amounted to £14,695, which were judged “manifestly disproportionate to the work on the file” and the overcharge “significant” when a reasonable cost for handling the matter assessed by a law costs draftsman would have been about £4,059.

In another case, bills prepared by Mr Hunter totalling £17,725 were assessed by the law costs draftsman to be £6,896 - an over-charge of more than £10,000.

In all five probate cases cited at the hearing, the tribunal was satisfied there had been culpable over-charging and that Mr Hunter had been dishonest in rendering bills of costs on probate matters which were excessive. Mr Hunter had denied those allegations.

The tribunal cited the case of Salsbury v the Law Society in which Lord Justice Coulson said that any solicitor who overcharged in bills of costs was a danger to the public.

Richard Thornton, joint senior partner at Blythe Liggins, said a routine inspection by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) had taken place in 2006.

Mr Thornton added: “In the course of that inspection, the SRA reviewed a number of Mr Hunter’s trust/administration files dating back several years.

“They felt that eight matters relating to fees over that period required further investigation, even though no complaints of any kind were - or have been since - made by the clients or the beneficiaries involved.

“Mr Hunter left the firm at the beginning of 2009.

“Compliance with the rules of our professional body is something we take very seriously.

“That’s why, since taking over as joint senior partners four years ago, David Lester and I have introduced new governance, better supervision, new codes of practice, greater transparency and more training courses to ensure that this could not happen again.”

At the time of going to print Mr Hunter was unavailable for comment.



The Pevensey Levels have not been surveyed since at least 2009 and it is unclear as to what that survey revealed. We tried to obtain copy of the data for this area and were told:-




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