High Court declines to overturn €650k reduction to solicitor's fees to client

A High Court judge has dismissed a challenge by a solicitor to a decision to cut by some €650,000 costs he sought from a former client.

Wicklow-based solicitor Joseph Buckley’s costs bill was cut by the Taxing Master who assesses legal bills arising from court actions. 

A legal costs accountant described it as “the worst example of overcharging” he had ever seen.

Denis Doyle, a client Mr Buckley for ten years from 1998, had opposed Mr Buckley’s case over the cut and claimed the Taxing Master’s decisions showed Mr Buckley was involved in “serious overcharging” of him.

Taxing Master Declan O’Neill issued a determination in January 2017 which made reductions of some €650,000 in costs claims by Mr Buckley.

However, that determination was not finalised pending Mr Buckley’s High Court case over it.

Separate proceedings by Mr Doyle against his former solicitor seeking a sum of €565,000 in a client account, which Mr Doyle alleges is his also, remain on hold pending the High Court review. 

Mr Buckley, who claims he is owed the monies in fees, had said some €45,000 remains in that account.

On Tuesday, Mr Justice Donald Binchy said he had concluded the court should not intervene in the “significant reductions” made by Master O’Neill.

He had one reservation arising from Mr Buckley’s insistence he had discharged a particular sum of €190,000, the judge said.

If Mr Buckley could establish he had done so, that could be taken into account at the plenary hearing and the Taxing Master’s findings adjusted to reflect that.

The judge gave a brief summary of his decision and said his full judgment would be made available within a few days.

He said a lack of judicial resources means a “very unsatisfactory state of affairs” where judges have to sit and hear cases one after another with no opportunity to give decisions in a timely manner.

This meant cases such as this, which throw up complexities and a lot of material requiring “careful sifting”, get pushed aside, he said.

He said he made those comments because Mr Doyle’s solicitors had expressed concerns about the delay in giving judgment on the case, heard in November 2017.

In his summary, the judge concluded Mr Buckley’s complaints about the hearing before the Taxing Master must be rejected.

The Taxing Master had jurisdiction to tax the bills of costs concerned, did not fall into any error procedurally and gave “painstaking” and “fair and reasoned” consideration to the matter, he held.

Notwithstanding the “very significant” reductions made by Master O’Neill, the court should not intervene, he ruled.

The judge put the matter back so the sides can get and consider the full judgment.

During the hearing, Paul Anthony McDermott SC, for Mr Doyle, said the Taxing Master’s decisions showed Mr Buckley was involved in “serious overcharging”.

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