A vintage few months for judicial spankings has yielded yet another lawyer takedown — and this time four law firms have been reprimanded in one judgment.
A newly-released High Court judgment has seen President of the Queen’s Bench Division Sir Brian Leveson tear into a quartet of hapless law firms for making meritless judicial review (JR) applications.
All the applications concern people who face removal or deportation — an area which Leveson’s predecessor, Sir John Thomas, highlighted as vulnerable to abuse of process before he took up his position as Lord Chief Justice last year.
Mindful, no doubt, of Thomas’ promise to “take the most vigorous action against any legal representatives who fail to comply with its rules”, Leveson really went for it as he dealt with a series of JR applications. In each matter, the firm in question was ordered to give training to its staff to prevent the further issuance of meritless JR applications and “write to the Administrative Court Office identifying precisely what steps it has taken to ensure that these failings do not recur.”
The first application, by M & K Solicitors, was described by Leveson as “totally without merit and an abuse of process” because the relevant decision was taken in 2010, the JR process initiated in November 2012 and the claim issued in May 2013.
He explained that “to believe that such an extension could be granted after three years is utterly to fail to recognise the importance of speed and expedition in this court,” before turning his attention to “an extremely scruffy handwritten letter from a bank” which the application relied upon.
Case number two featured a JR application by Denning Solicitors of a decision that was not open to appeal in which an out of date form had been used. The court described the challenge, witheringly, as “incompetent”.
The third application — by Eden Solicitors — was made by a foreign-registered lawyer who was not authorised to commence JR proceedings. In addition, it constituted an abuse of process because the ground for an application were not made out. Having narrowly decided against referring the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the firm was given one last chance to get its house in order and given the same letter-to-the-Administrative-Court sanction as the others.
And last but not least, case four, by Malik & Malik Solicitors, which featured an abusive application issued because of the dishonesty of an employee who felt pressured to make the application and to deceive the senior partner into signing the appropriate cheque to pay the court fee. Again, the firm avoided being referred to the SRA by a whisker.
Leveson concluded with a warning to sloppy solicitors:
“We add only this: these courts are not assembled because of our wish to embarrass or otherwise impugn solicitors whose work is conscientious, thorough and in accordance with the highest keepings of the profession. We are, however, determined to ensure that the overly frequent abusive applications in this field of law cease and we will take whatever steps are necessary to do so. This judgment will be circulated to all judges and deputy judges sitting on these applications in the Administrative Court.”
The full judgment is here, courtesy of Bailii.