A v The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police [2008] EWHC 1658 (QB)

Posted on Thursday, July 17th, 2008

The issue in this matter was whether it was reasonable for a client to instruct solicitors outside of the client’s local area.

It was alleged by the Claimant that the police had unlawfully searched and detained him on 29/04/98. He was then prosecuted for affray, assault and criminal damage. However, the Claimant successfully resisted the criminal charges. As a result of his wrongful arrest, the Claimant alleged that he developed paranoid schizophrenia. A claim was brought against the police.

The Claimant had originally instructed local solicitors in Sheffield, but prior to the conclusion of the criminal matter, a firm of solicitors in London was approached by the Claimant’s partner and the Claimant then instructed the London firm to represent him in his case against the police. The Claimant maintained that it was vital that he receive specialist counsel which was appropriate in his case against the police and so due to the local solicitors not being specialists in litigation against the police, his instructions were transferred to the London firm.

Management of the case was transferred to the Sheffield District Registry following the issue of the claim forming London. Damages of £1,000,000 were initially sought by the Claimant but the matter settled for £300,000.

At detailed assessment, the Deputy Costs Judge allowed rates of £190 per hour as opposed to the rates claimed by the London firm of £265 per hour. Therefore the costs allowed amounted to £145,000 which was £50,000 less than the costs claimed by the London firm. Wraith v Sheffield Forgemasters Ltd was referred to and the Deputy Costs Judge concluded that most of the Claimant’s claim related to personal injury and so it had not been necessary to instruct a specialist solicitor with expertise in claims against the police or in claims for psychiatric injury.

The decision of the Deputy Costs Judge was appealed.

The Court of Appeal held that although the matter was complex and that it was reasonable to instruct a solicitor with experience of police claims, the main part of the claim related to personal injury and there had been firms in Sheffield at the time which were likely to have experience in bringing claims against the police. A litigant who had instructed a solicitor based outside of his local area and who charged higher hourly rates than local solicitors had not acted as a reasonable litigant. Therefore it was further held that the Deputy Costs Judge had been correct in assessing the rates at those which would have been charged by a local, experienced solicitor.


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