Deputy: ‘Only the Island’s wealthy can afford justice’

ONLY the wealthy can afford justice in Jersey, a backbench politician has said, after it was revealed that a law firm charged an unrepresented defendant £600 per hour in fees.

Deputy Mike Higgins. Picture: TONY PIKE. (31356373)
Deputy Mike Higgins. Picture: TONY PIKE. (31356373)

Deputy Mike Higgins, who has fought for the right of many to access justice, has raised concerns over the size of the bill, which was highlighted by a fees lawyer and access-to-justice campaigner.

Jim Diamond said the decision had set a ‘dangerous precedent’, after one of his clients was given the £11,680 bill in the Royal Court to cover the legal costs of the opposing party. Mr Diamond, who has scrutinised the Island’s legal system for more than two decades, said the costs arose after the litigant-in-person [person who represents themselves] lost the recent Hard Rock Ltd and Hard Rock Café International (STP) Inc versus HRCKY Ltd case.

Deputy Higgins said: ‘Only those who are very wealthy can afford justice. Our legal-aid system is totally inadequate and litigants-in-person haven’t got a hope in hell because the system is against them.’

The Deputy said he was considering lodging a proposition to enable Jersey residents to employ UK lawyers to represent them in the Island’s courts so that they could access justice ‘at an affordable rate’. This would break the monopoly that local advocates had, he said.

A breakdown of the costs provided by Mr Diamond indicates that the bill included work being carried out at a rate of £600 per hour by a partner at Carey Olsen, while an associate charged £400 per hour.

Mr Diamond said that this was well above guideline ‘factor A’ rates set by the Bailiff in February 2020, which indicate that, as a base, partners should charge £275 per hour, while qualified lawyers should charge £200 to £240 – although they are entitled to charge more than this.

He said: ‘The rates which have been allowed in this case are extremely high, especially when you consider that the defendant was a litigant-in-person.

Jim Diamond. Picture: Adrian Miller (31238253)

‘I’m really concerned that this is going to set a dangerous precedent. If someone does not have a great deal of money, then it is an awful lot they could end up being charged if they need to go to court and lose.

‘These are the sorts of rates that are charged by the partners of the biggest law firms in Jersey, like Mourant, Carey Olsen and Bedell Cristin. This calls into question the level of “access to justice” in Jersey for people who might struggle to pay legal costs.’

Deputy Higgins said he felt ‘so strongly’ about the issue, adding: ‘I feel like bringing a proposition to take away the monopoly of lawyers in the Island for audiences with the Royal Court, so if people would be able to find a cheaper lawyer in the UK, who could come over and fight their case, they would be allowed audience.

‘We have a monopoly in the Island of lawyers protected by Royal Court rules that you have to be a Royal Court advocate to have audience.’

Both the Royal Court and Carey Olsen declined to comment.

Carey Olsen's offices on the Esplanade. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (31333483)

Jersey has safeguards in place to enable lower-income Islanders to access the courts, such as protection against legal fees for plaintiffs in personal injury cases, access to the lower-cost petty debts courts for claims of less than £30,000 and the legal-aid system, under which lawyers provide discounted advice.

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