How taxation is obtained out of time under the LPUL in NSW

In the last post, Justice Quigley extended time in which to seek taxation under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Vic) in unusual circumstances, by consent.  Curiously, a funny little case from NSW provides an echo: Stoltz v Peter Skidmore of Phoenix Legal Consulting Pty Limited [2021] NSWSC 1063 (funny choice of defendant, I must say, but Ms Stolz was unrepresented).

Monies were paid by the Family Court into a solicitor’s trust account following Ms Stolz’s settlement of matrimonial proceedings.  Disbursement was restrained pending a taxation of costs as between Ms Stolz and the intervener in the matrimonial proceedings, Phoenix Legal.  (Tell you what, if I got a brief from an incorporated legal practice called Phoenix Legal, I’d be seeking a director’s guarantee of the firm’s liability to pay my fees.)

So naturally, Ms Stolz sought taxation.  The Manager, Costs Assessment, an officer of the Supreme Court of NSW, told her that she was out of time and she needed to file a summons in the Common Law Division and have the matter referred to a judge.  That was an error.  The Manager is the person in NSW who has the power to grant leave to extend time.

So naturally, Ms Stolz filed the summons.  By the time the matter got to the judge, Ms Stolz and Phoenix Legal had settled their differences and agreed on how to divide up the trust monies between them.

Then the judge fixed it all up for Ms Stolz in the following manner, at [7] et seq:

‘Were I simply to remit the matter for determination by the Manager, I would be requiring the parties to engage in a process which, in my view, would be inimical to the just, quick and cheap resolution of the real issues in the proceedings, which is the overriding purpose of the Civil Procedure Act 2005 (NSW) as provided in s 56.

I propose to construe the Manager’s decision not to treat the plaintiff’s application for a costs assessment as an application for an extension of time as amounting to a constructive refusal to exercise the jurisdiction conferred by s 11 of the [Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act, 2014 (NSW)] from which a right of review would lie under s 93B of the Application Act. In these circumstances, I am prepared to regard the plaintiff’s summons as being, in effect, an application for review of the Manager’s constructive refusal.

The power to review the Manager’s decision is a power to be exercised de novo on the merits. I am satisfied on the basis of the plaintiff’s affidavit that it is both just and fair for her application for costs assessment to be dealt with after the 12-month period. I have also taken into account Mr Skidmore’s evidence.

The parties have helpfully provided short minutes of order, which they have signed. I will make those orders with some amendments as follows.’

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