Solicitor not personally liable for expenses during the act of a deputy, judge finds

A judge has found that a solicitor is not personally liable for fees, disbursements, and expenses when acting as a Court of Protection-appointed deputy.

This is evident in the case of Catherine Joan Brassington v Knights Professional Services Limited – reported in The Law Society Gazette – as it reveals that Catherine Brassington was a partner at Knights Professional Services Limited and brought eight deputyship files with her when she joined the firm’s Chester office in 2016 before being appointed to act as deputy in the affairs of client P.

The case revolves around Knights’ practice of treating costs refused by the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) as “work in progress” rather than writing them off. Over £166,000 worth of work-in-progress was unbilled.

His Honour Judge Hodge KC said:

“Mrs Brassington was contracting solely as agent for P. I further find that she accepted no personal liability for Knights’ remuneration or expenses.

No lien can be asserted by Knights against Mrs Brassington, both because she was never Knights’ client, and she was never personally liable for any of their costs and expenses.”

The judge noted that Neil Berragan, who was representing Brassington, had “reasons… so elegantly articulated” that Brassington was only working with Knights in her capacity as P’s deputy and agent.

He added:

“Both parties understood that P, rather than Mrs Brassington, was Knights’ true client, as evidenced by the way the client was identified and referenced in Knights’ statements of account and, by inference, its files and other records. After all, the work Knights was being engaged to carried out was for the benefit of P, rather than Mrs Brassington personally.”

The judge ruled that there was not a “shred of evidence” that Brassington or anyone else at Knights told the family co-deputies they would be personally liable to the company that they never voluntarily provided their informed consent.

He added:

“Nor can I understand why, if Knights ever considered and understood that Mrs Brassington (or any of her co-deputies) had assumed the risk of non-recovery of Knights’ remuneration and expenses… this was never drawn to her (or their) attention at any time during the period of more than six years that unbilled WIP was mounting up.”

It was accepted that P is not liable for any remuneration and expenses that have been disallowed on assessment by the SCCO.

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