Friday 18 October 2019

Solicitors win overcharging case on abuse victim fees

Ann O'Loughlin

A FIRM of solicitors has won its legal bid to overturn a Law Society committee's determination that it overcharged two abuse victims.

The Law Society said the firm had overcharged when it processed their claims before the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

High Court judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie yesterday upheld the Cork firm's claim that Consumer Affairs director Carmel Foley's remarks about the complaints in October 2005 gave an appearance of bias.

Ms Foley was "unwise" to have publicly voiced her opinion about the complaints at a time when she was also a member of the Law Society's three-member Client Relations Committee (CRC), he said.

Ms Foley was quoted as saying On October 15, 2005 that it was "nothing less than scandalous" if solicitors were taking money over and above their fees.

To take money from a claimant's award was a very serious offence in her view, she added.

The judge said Ms Foley's position was especially important in this regard as her sphere of influence was in the area of consumer welfare. It was "unwise" for her to have publicly declared any view on the claims of overcharging, even by way of general comment.

Justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done.

He also ruled that the society and the CRC had, when dealing with the complaints, failed to take certain steps which they were obliged to take under section nine of the Solicitors Amendment Act 1994.

This required that the solicitors be allowed to take all appropriate steps to settle the matter with their clients by agreement, before directions were issued. That had not been done, he said.

The proceedings were brought by Garry O'Driscoll, Shearwater Apartments, Kinsale, and Grattan d'Esterre Roberts of Riverwood, Curabinny, Carrigaline, against the Law Society of Ireland and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

The solicitors had challenged determinations made by the CRC on November 10 and December 15, 2005, which had directed that the fees be refunded.

The committee had investigated claims by a man who appeared on RTE's 'Primetime' programme in 2005 that he had been overcharged by the law firm Ahern, Roberts, O'Rourke, Williams and partners, of the Old Rectory, Carrigaline, Co Cork.

The man claimed he was charged a total fee of €8,510 by the firm for processing his claim. He said he had secured an award of €70,000 from the Board plus €6,000 for solicitors fees. The firm had accepted the €6,000 and retained the additional €2,510 from the award.

A second claimant said he secured an award of €103,333 from the board plus €10,800 for the solicitors fee.

The firm's total fee sought was €14,300 and it retained the balance of its fees €4,235 from the award.

Mr d'Esterre Roberts has said the committee had concluded that the fees charged were excessive without reviewing the work done by the firm for the clients.

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