Perth Sheriff court is the latest setting for Scots law firms pursuing clients over fees. PERTH SHERIFF COURT is again at the centre of questions over the progress of a year long case involving a local law firm Kippen Campbell and their attempts to recover fees from a client they were representing in a personal injury claim against Arriva Motor Retailing Ltd & Reg Vardy plc. Partners at Kippen Campbell allege the fees are due, even though the law firm dumped their client, Mr William Gordon, in a move which brought to a halt any progress on Mr Gordon’s personal injury claim as he has since been unable to secure legal representation.
Mr Gordon has now been put in the unenviable position in Scots Law of being an unrepresented party litigant trying to stave off demands from a law firm for disputed fees. Letters sent by Mr Gordon to Perth Sheriff Court in the case of Kippen Campbell v William Gordon A334/09 reveal Mr Gordon, the defender, has offered to settle the law firm’s claims, although it now appears the pursuing law firm Kippen Campbell prefers the case continue in the Sheriff Court.
Fee note released during SLCC investigation detailed Kippen Campbell attempted to charge dropped client for dealing with Law Society complaints. As I reported in December 2009, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission began an investigation into complaints made late last year against Messrs Kippen Campbell by their former client, Mr William Gordon over issues related to their representation of Mr Gordon in a personal injury claim. The SLCC’s investigation was ‘complicated’ according to legal insiders, although court documents seen by journalists revealed the law firm had, among its now disputed charges to Mr Gordon, charged a fee note to Mr Gordon for a phone call between the Law Society of Scotland and a partner from Kippen Campbell over a complaint Mr Gordon had made regarding service provided by his now former legal representatives.
Sources at the Law Society said such moves by law firms are severely frowned upon by the regulatory body as solicitors are ‘not allowed to charge clients for dealing with complaints’. Suggestions have since been made that a complete audit be carried out of the law firm involved, and a wider investigation be initiated by the Law Society & SLCC into practices of law firms charging clients for dealing with complaints – a secretive practice which may be contributing to similar cases across Scotland of law firms pursuing clients for fees they claim are due, where the coincidence exists the client has been dropped by a law firm who are themselves subject to complaints & investigations by solicitor’s regulators.
SLCC Chair Jane Irvine may still have to appear as ‘expert witness’ in Perth Sheriff Court over disputed fees & law firm’s conduct. Progress on the case, now more than year on since I last reported on developments, where Jane Irvine, the Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and at least one SLCC investigator faced being called as witnesses to be cross examined on the law firm’s conduct towards Mr Gordon and his personal injury claim, has been painfully slow, with almost no movement other than a succession of postponed hearings at Perth Sheriff Court on the law firm’s own pursuit of fees it claims it is owed.
The fee recovery case being pursued by Kippen Campbell against their former client, has, according to court documents seen by Diary of Injustice, not even been allocated to a Sheriff even after a year of being passed around the local Sheriff court system.
It has recently been revealed by legal insiders close to the case, the constant barrage of court hearings initiated by the law firm who dropped their own client and attempted to charge him for dealing with complaints, has taken its toll on the unrepresented Mr Gordon, whose well being has suffered so extensively his Doctor has been forced to write up to seven times to the court, stating his patient cannot attend proceedings due to failing health.
It has also been alleged that Mr Gordon has been treated with some disdain by local Sheriff court officials, who, appearing not to take Mr Gordon’s predicament as an unrepresented party litigant into account, have failed on numerous occasions to notify Mr Gordon of successive dates of court hearings. The court staff’s failures to notify Mr Gordon of events concerning the case against him have now become so numerous, some claim it is an attempt to ensure his former law firm who are pursuing him for fees they allege are due, obtain a decision in their favour during Mr Gordon’s absence from proceedings he is not being kept up to speed with and may not be aware of.
Details from an investigation carried out by Diary of Injustice into the case can now reveal Mr Gordon, even in his weakened medical state while signed off appearing in court by his Doctor, has been forced on each occasion to ask for access to court interlocutors, detailing motions & events concerning the law firm’s court pursuit of fees they allege are due.
On many occasions interlocutors have apparently been produced to Mr Gordon late, or in what some contend to be a questionable format with some papers provided by court officials appearing to have been adjusted photocopies of earlier postponements. It can also been revealed that curiously, the Sheriff Court wrote to Mr Gordon’s Doctor during his annual leave, and set a date for reply and the next hearing of the case on the same day the Doctor returned to work.
Law Society & SLCC failures over regulation of complaints against solicitors are impacting on clients health. The numerous Doctor’s letters required by Perth Sheriff Court in the Kippen Campbell v William Gordon A334/09 case are now causing concern in terms of their frequency & detail required by the court, to the point some are now questioning just how many times a Doctor should be harangued over the fitness of his client to attend proceedings in cases where the client has a long term medical condition, and when the likelihood is the stressful nature of such a case as it is continuing, against a background of serious allegations of complaints made against a law firm, and allegations of significant regulatory failures by the Law Society of Scotland & the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, are only likely to make matters worse for Mr Gordon’s health.
The Scottish Court Service were asked for comment on what guidance exists to sheriffs & judges on how to handle “Soul & Conscience” style letters from doctors relating to parties in civil law cases.
A response from the Judicial Studies Committee, a division of the Scottish Court Service established for the purpose of supporting the judiciary in the carrying out of their non-judicial functions stated : “No specific guidance is issued to judges in relation to soul and conscience certificates. These tend to appear in support of an absence of a litigant or witness before or during court proceedings. They are tendered ex parte. If an issue arises about the authenticity or content of the certificate it is open to the judge to continue the case for clarification of the issue. The certificate is one factor to be taken into account in determining an application to adjourn or delay a case.”
“Medical certificates, according to Practice Note of 6 June 1968 (found in the Parliament House Book at p. C2002, which is available to all judges), no longer need to bear the words ‘on soul and conscience’ in relation to an action pending before the Court of Session. They are mainly used when a witness is unable to attend court and they will remove a witness from the court list for up to 30 days.”
“In an opinion of the Court delivered by the Lord Justice Clerk in The Scottish Ministers v Claire Rennison or Smith  CSIH 44, it was observed that ‘although certification on soul and conscience is no longer an indispensable requirement (cf Practice Note, 6 June 1968), the absence of it is a factor that we are entitled to take into account’ when the second respondent failed to appear.”
“Consideration is being given by the judiciary to whether further procedural guidance on medical certificates would be desirable in light of the Rennison case.”
Taking into account cases such as the one reported on here today, there is clearly a need for further procedural guidance on medical certificates & doctor’s letters are now required for Scottish courts, and it seems, retraining for court staff in how to deal with party litigants. After all, just how many times can someone be asked if they are ill or liable to recover in time to pay off fees their solicitors claim are due, even when complaints against the solicitor’s service have been made and the fees themselves are in significant dispute …