Supreme Court sets aside default judgment in Magistrates’ Court and refers the fees to taxation instead of remitting suit for fees

Davey v Costanzo Lawyers Ltd [2021] VSC 449 is episode # c. 898 in my series  about suits for fees, ‘Many a Slip Twixt Cup and Lip’.

A family law firm whose website modestly explains that they are the ‘best family lawyers’ sued its former client for professional costs and barristers’ fees for work done in 2018.  They got default judgment for about $40,000 in June 2019, but they forgot to plead that they did the work set out in the bill, that being left to be inferred from the fact that they gave a bill.

In July 2019, a judicial registrar refused an application to set the default judgment aside.  A Magistrate at Heidelberg, reviewing that decision, came to the same conclusion in August 2019.  Then the plaintiff hired counsel and applied again to the same Magistrate to set aside the judgment, and she said no, again, in February 2020.

The lawyers had thrice claimed successfully that there was no merit at all in the client’s defence.  But the client got a barrister, sought judicial review in the Supreme Court and jumped the arguable defence hurdle on the fourth attempt, clearing House v R in the same leap though it was strictly unnecessary to do so, and won on the basis that the complaint had been so badly pleaded that it did not make out a cause of action in debt, so that the default judgment was irregular and should have been set aside ex debito justitiae.  Then she got costs.

The decision is also of interest in relation to the circumstances in which a second application to set aside a default judgment might succeed.  Quigley J observed in dicta:

’36 The new or additional material argued before her Honour is set out above at [16]. Her Honour was sceptical that the matters identified were new or different. However, insofar as it is necessary to make any observation in this regard, it is apparent that a more cogent formulation of the basis of the potential defence(s) [was] articulated in this second application before her Honour. In my view, this may be sufficient to provide a change in circumstances from the situation which pertained before the Court on the first occasion.’

In other words, if you’re represented competently the second time and you self-represented the first time, that might be enough. Continue reading “Supreme Court sets aside default judgment in Magistrates’ Court and refers the fees to taxation instead of remitting suit for fees”

Costs of the lawyer litigant: judgments all over the place

Update, 7 November 2018: the pendulum is certainly swinging in favour of pro se barristers being entitled to scale costs if they win: Pentelow v Bell Lawyers Pty Ltd [2018] NSWCA 150; Lake v Municipal Association of Victoria (No 2) [2018] VSC 660.

Update, 30 November 2017: The Full Court of the Tasmanian Supreme Court has weighed in, deciding that a practitioner who was admitted but yet to apply for a practising certificate was not a person to whom the Chorley exception applied: QRS v Legal Profession Board of Tasmania [2017] TASFC 13, and that the exception only favours lawyers who held a practising certificate at the time they did the work.

Update, 24 October 2017:  Readers have brought my attention to a couple of developments in relation to the law about the costs awards available to various classes of litigants who represent themselves.  First, in Joint Action Funding Limited v Eichelbaum [2017] NZCA 249 (14 June 2017), the New Zealand Court of Appeal decided that the Chorley exception in favour of lawyers who represent themselves is not available to a barrister who acted for himself.  But as Andrew Beck pointed out in ‘Who Gets Costs? The Plight of the Unrepresented’ [2017] NZLJ 281 (I have a copy if you want one), the Court’s reasoning may affect a broader class of unrepresented persons, and the decision may in time come to be seen as a substantial inroad into the Chorley exception.  Though the New Zealand High Court considered the Australian authorities in some detail, between the NZ case being argued and judgment being delivered, the NSW Court of Appeal delivered what seems to me likely to be a decision on rather similar questions in Coshott [sic!] v Spencer [2017] NSWCA 118 (31 May 2017). Continue reading “Costs of the lawyer litigant: judgments all over the place”

Is solicitor-director of ILP which acted for him to be treated as self-represented?

A NSW solicitor was partially successful in a defamation suit.  But for the circumstance that he had retained an incorporated legal practice with which he was associated and for part of the time the director and the file handler, the Court was willing to order the defendant to pay his costs on an indemnity basis.  In respect of the period in which the solicitor was — the fictions of corporations law aside — substantially self-represented, his costs were ordered to be assessed on the ordinary basis.   What McCallum J said in McMahon v John Fairfax Publications Pty Ltd (No 8) [2014] NSWSC 673 is:

Continue reading “Is solicitor-director of ILP which acted for him to be treated as self-represented?”