05 Dec 2017

Jersey residents need protection from 'extortionate' legal fees

Jersey residents need greater protection from lawyers charging extortionate fees after it was discovered a Jersey advocate was charging £1015 per hour and the client faced insurmountable difficulties querying the figure.

Jersey legal system under attack for difficulties in challenging bills. Laurent Renault

Legal costs expert Jim Diamond who has assessed legal costs for 35 years has lashed out at the Jersey system saying that it was not fit for purpose for clients to challenge bills because those accused of excessive billing could simply refuse to take part in a mediation process. On top of that Mr Diamond explained that the situation was being made worse because the Jersey Law Society was ‘closing ranks with others in the profession by preventing experts like him from assisting Islanders who believed they had been grossly overcharged’. Clients who feel that they have been asked to pay too much can ask the society for a review. However, the law firm about which the complaint is made can veto any investigation and opt out of having their fees reviewed, according to reports in the Jersey Evening Post.

'Mad' situation

Mr Diamond, who offered to review some of the legal costs of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry for free, described the situation as ‘mad’. He was seeking to represent a client charged £1,015 a hour when he was told that he had ‘no status’ in the process and could not attend meetings to argue the case. He says that he was ‘frozen out’ after asking to meet both representatives of the Law Society and the lawyer who issued the bill.

'Totally Incorrect'

Neville Benbow, the Chief Executive of the Jersey Law Society, was reported as saying that clients could ask for the charges to be examined by an independent review board, but that third parties did not need to be engaged for a review to take place and added that suggestions that law firms charged more than £1,000 an hour was ‘totally incorrect’.

Major concerns

Mr Diamond said: ‘Jersey does not have a Solicitor’s Act-type procedure which allows a client to raise issues and go straight to the relevant costs court for an independent assessment…Jersey needs to have something like this so clients don’t have this mad issue of someone having to consent to the mediation process. I have major concerns whether the structure of the Law Society and the mediation process is right.’ Mr Benbow said ‘the Law Society can’t force a firm to agree to fee adjudication.’