Unreasonable costs and practicing without a BVI Bar Certificate were among some of the factors which resulted in Supreme High Court Judge Justice Adrian Jack reducing the total legal fees ordered to be paid by Speaker of the House of Assembly Julian Willock by some $16,707.99.
The total fees ordered to be paid declined from the previously submitted $121,432.50 to $104,724.51
The judgment came following a close court cost assessment after the Speaker’s attorney from Silk Legal Daniel Davies challenged the original cost submitted by the attorneys representing the Commissioner of the Inquiry Sir Gary Hickenbottom and his three attorneys.
The legal fees submitted by the Attorney General totaled $6,084 while the bill for Commissioner Sir Hickinbottom along with his attorneys Bilal Rawat, Rhea Harrikissoon and Andrew King totaled $115,348.50.
After assessing the information presented, Justice Jack concluded that the more than $115,000 bill submitted by the COI’s represented law firm Walkers’, had a number of discrepancies which he had to address.
These discrepancies resulted in his final decision to revise the total to be paid to law firm Walkers to $98,676.51.
He said, “I have considered whether the total allowed below of $98,676.51 is a reasonable overall figure. In my judgment it is. This was litigation which was very significant to the first to the fourth defendants.”
He added, “Had the claimant obtained an injunction preventing the second, third and fourth defendants acting in the Commission of Inquiry, that would have seriously impacted on the Commission’s ability to conclude its work. Mr. Willock must have been aware of this potential impact. The legal resources employed, including the instruction of leading counsel, were reasonable.”
Attorney practicing prior to receiving bar certificate
Justice Jack in his 39-page judgement listed some of the discrepancies discovered in the Schedule of Costs submitted by law firm Walkers.
This included billing hours submitted by Queens Council Andrew Sutcliffe which requested for money dating back prior to August 30, 2021.
However, it was discovered that Sutcliffe was only issued a practicing certificate on August 30, which resulted in Justice Jack dismissing all hours requested prior to that date.
“This has the effect of making costs incurred in respect of any work done by or with him up until that date irrecoverable. It is also forbidden by statute for any counsel to practice BVI law without a practicing certificate, (Section 15 of the Legal Professions Act 2015). The Court is also invited to find that it is impermissible to allow a counsel who is not in possession of a practicing certificate to engage in the practice of law at any stage of a case and to disallow any costs claimed in that manner. I agree that fees incurred by Mr. Sutcliff QC prior to 30thAugust 2021 are irrecoverable for these reasons,” Justice Jack explained.
Unreasonable and disproportionate bill
Justice Jack also termed the bill submitted by Walkers as “wholly unreasonable and disproportionate”. He compared components of the bill submitted by the Attorney General to the bill submitted by Walkers.
He said, “The Attorney General’s Chambers presented a bill which showed a total amount of $6,084 for 18.2 hours. Against this, the Walkers’ bill is essentially claiming for 147 hours plus an incalculable amount of time for Andrew Sutcliffe Q.C. The Court should treat this with great suspicion. In fact, the bill produced by the lawyers working directly for Walkers far exceeds that of Andrew Sutcliffe QC’s. It is clear from this fact alone, that their bill is completely unreasonable.”
“It is also quite interesting to note that the lawyers from Walkers appear to spend excessive time on reviewing draft judgments issued by the Court. This is particularly concerning, because even though Andrew Sutcliffe QC’s billing is unclear, it appears that he doesn’t spend half as much of the time that the lawyers from Walkers do on certain items, charging a mere GBP 150.00 plus VAT for reviewing a draft judgment that Walker’s $4,340.00 (Items 57, 58 and 60),” Justice Jack further explained.
Now that the final costs to be paid by Speaker Willock has been finalised, it will now be up to a Special Committee which was approved by the House of Assembly, to decide on whether the Speaker will have to foot the bill as a private citizen or whether taxpayers will be paying his legal bill.