Mr Justice Soole has ruled that a solicitor’s former client has no right to access documents on their file which are the property of the solicitor. Soole J heard two conjoined appeals, Hanley v. J C & A Solicitors and Green & Others v. SGI Legal LLP  EWCA 2095 (Civ). In both cases, the Appellants had engaged the Respondent firms in relation to personal injury claims by way of conditional fee agreements. Deductions were made from their damages for the Respondent firms’ success fees and for ATE premiums. The Appellants engaged JG Solicitors to challenge these deductions and requests were made for their clients’ full files. The Respondent firms provided the documents belonging to the client, but in respect of their own documents, SGI Legal refused to provide them at all and J C & A were only willing to provide them at a cost significantly above the usual copying charges.
Soole J upheld decisions of Master James and Master Leonard respectively that the principal of ownership could not be circumvented, whilst acknowledging the decisions ran contrary to previous decisions of the Senior Courts Cost Office. The judgment contains a thorough analysis of relevant case law, but ends in a warning that solicitors should not press their legal rights of ownership to the limit, noting that there may be costs implications for any refusal to comply with a reasonable request.