Bills of costs must be signed by principals or employees: what does that mean?

Update: 6 January 2008: Pinna v Kuek [1999] VSC 204 is a decision about the correlative section under s. 107, Legal Practice Act, 1996, which said (2) A bill of costs – (a) must be signed by – (i) the legal practitioner…’. O’Bryan J held that a letter signed by the legal practitioner enclosing a 10 page unsigned itemised bill of costs satisfied the requirements of the provision. Now that is made clear by the Legal Profession Act, 2004, since amendments which came into operation in 2007. The provision is s. 3.4.34(2A). Furthermore, it is no longer necessary for a partner of a firm to sign a bill. Any lawyer, including employees of the law practice rendering the bill may do so: s. 3.4.34(2).

Dennis v Cameron [2007] NSWCA 228 is a very interesting case about bills.

Original post: The law on what constitutes a signature is:

‘the fact an actual signature is not the result of the act of signing is not critical to the validity of the document. Even a form with a signature impressed upon it by a printing machine[6] or where the person signing places upon the document an engraved representation of that person’s signature by means of a rubber stamp[7] have been held to satisfy the statutory requirement of a signature. A telex signature has also been held to be sufficient to constitute a proper signature.8] The critical element appears to be that the signature must also contain the additional characteristic that the person making the mark approves of the contents of the document.’*

Hoeben J said much the same thing at [42] in Dennis v Cameron [2007] NSWCA 228 in the context of a NSW statutory provision which says that a bill of costs must be signed by a partner of a firm, or by a barrister, or an employee of either. That case is also the subject of the next post.

The relevant provision in Victoria is section 3.4.34 of the Legal Profession Act, 2004:

‘(2) A bill must be signed on behalf of a law practice—

(a) in any case, by an Australian legal practitioner or an employee of the law practice; or

(b) in the case of a barrister, by an approved clerk or an employee of an approved clerk authorised by the approved clerk.

(2A) It is sufficient compliance with subsection (2) if—

(a) in any case, a letter signed on behalf of a law practice by an Australian legal practitioner or an employee of the law practice is attached to, or enclosed with, the bill;

(b) in the case of a barrister, a letter signed on behalf of the barrister by an approved clerk or an employee of an approved clerk authorised by the approved clerk is attached to, or enclosed with, the bill.

(3) In the case of a law practice that is an incorporated legal practice, the bill may be sealed by the practice in accordance with its constitution, instead of being signed under subsection (2).’

But I think these provisions have been amended recently. Employees of firms or clerks did not used to be able to sign bills. If you think that might affect you, check the transitional provisions associated with the amending Act.

* Sharon Christensen et. al, ‘The Statute of Frauds in the Digital Age — Maintaining the Integrity of Signatures’, (December 2003) 10(4) Murdoch University Electronic Law Journal.

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