(Court of Appeal; Ward, Stanley Burnton, Elias LJJ, Senior Costs Judge Master Hurst; 1 May 2012)
The husband instructed solicitors during divorce proceedings and received a quote of £3000 plus vat for representation in hearing of his wife's application for a non-molestation and ouster order. Proceedings were far more complicated than anticipated and the solicitors sent the husband a bill for £5,472.50. The husband refused to pay and the solicitors ceased working on his behalf. The costs judge found the husband had reasonable justification for not paying his bill because the solicitors had suspended work on the husband's case and the bill exceeded the estimate.
The solicitors' appeal was upheld because the husband had no advance warning that the bill would exceed the estimate and the solicitors in breach of contract in terminating their services.
The appeal to the Court of appeal was allowed. The solicitors' standard terms of business included with the initial quote stated that the quote was not fixed or binding and could vary depending on the complexity of the case. It was not reasonable for the husband to expect the solicitors to wait for payment until he had a costs order in his favour. The unexpected complications could not justify non-payment of the bill. The husband was obliged to pay as per the terms of business.