Pereira Linus Barnabas t/a Linus Law Chambers v Wong Shin Kwong

CourtMagistrates' Court (Singapore)
JudgePatrick Tay Wei Sheng
Judgment Date20 May 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] SGMC 29
Citation[2020] SGMC 29
Docket NumberBill of Costs No. 37 of 2019
Hearing Date10 January 2020,11 February 2020
Published date12 June 2020
Plaintiff CounselPereira Linus Barnabas (Linus Law Chambers)
Defendant CounselNg Lip Chih (Foo & Quek LLC)
Subject MatterCivil Procedure,Costs,Taxation,Non-contentious business
Deputy Registrar Patrick Tay Wei Sheng:

The applicant is a solicitor of 39 years standing. He was instructed by the respondent (the “seller”) in two ultimately unsuccessful attempts to sell a business at a price of up to $780,000. He rendered a separate bill in respect of each attempt. Following some delay, the seller paid the bill for the first attempt and asked to have the bill for the second attempt taxed. The applicant now presents a bill of costs in the following sums for the taxation of his solicitor-and-client costs in respect of the second attempt: $12,500 for work done other than for taxation (“Section 1”); $1,250 for work done for taxation (“Section 2”); and $281 for disbursements (“Section 3”).

The seller disputes the bill and contends that the sums should be $3,000 for Section 1 and $61 for Section 3, with no award made for Section 2. He argues that the applicant did not document the work done for the second attempt, and that the work done simply duplicated that for the first attempt. He adds that the bill relates to work that “pre-dates” the signing of the warrant to act for the second attempt (“WTA”).

Neither party filed any affidavit in support of their positions in this taxation. Rather, they agreed to proceed on their written submissions and the documents that they exhibited therein. Neither party raised any objections as to the authenticity of those documents.

Formalities

The WTA sets out the agreement of the seller as follows:1

… I conf‌irm and agree that your fee for so acting for me in this matter [ie, the second attempt] shall be f‌ixed at $15,000.00 plus all reasonable disbursements (including stamp and search fees) to be incurred by you on my behalf Dated this 5th day of January 2017

It does not assist the seller that the WTA was signed only after the applicant had commenced work on the second attempt. An agreement for the remuneration of a solicitor for non-contentious business may be made “before or after or in the course of the transaction of any non-contentious business” (s 109(1) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap 161, 2009 Rev Ed) (“LPA”)). The WTA fulfils the formalities requirements of s 109(4) of the LPA: it is in writing and signed by the seller. It is also undisputed that the seller had prior to executing the WTA instructed the applicant orally, and that the WTA had been executed in the terms of that instruction. On its face, the WTA is thus enforceable as a remuneration agreement (see Law Society of Singapore v Ang Chin Peng and another [2013] 1 SLR 946 at [29]).

Fairness and reasonableness

Nevertheless, the court has a broad jurisdiction over a bill of costs for non-contentious business that is based on a remuneration agreement. Where the amount claimed is unfair or unreasonable relative to the work done, the court may cancel the remuneration agreement or reduce the amount payable thereunder (s 109(6) of the LPA). The guiding principle is that a solicitor “must charge the client fairly for work done” (r 17(1) of the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules 2015 (No. S 706); see also Jemma Trust Co Ltd v Liptrott [2004] 1 WLR 646).

The rationale for such judicial supervision over non-contentious business is that the client may not understand the nature and extent of the work undertaken on the matter. The taxing officer is an independent reviewer of the remuneration agreement that forms the basis of the bill of costs (Law Society of Singapore v Ang Chin Peng and another [2013] 1 SLR 946 at [34]).

… it is only the Solicitor, and not the client, who fully appreciates the nature and extent of the work to be undertaken on the matter. The Solicitor thus enjoys an advantage and it would be unfair to the client to be straitjacketed, without any available recourse, to the fee agreement. Understandably therefore, this provision permits the client to have the agreement reviewed by an independent person, ie,...

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