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Posted by: John Brace | 25th November 2015

Why did Wirral Council spend £48,384 on a London-based barrister in benefits battle with landlord?

Why did Wirral Council spend £48,384 on a London-based barrister in benefits battle with landlord?

                                                          

ICO Information Commissioner's Office logo

ICO Information Commissioner’s Office logo

For those who don’t remember Wirral Council’s motto is "by faith and foresight" and last night’s meeting of Wirral Council’s Audit and Risk Management Commmittee (which you can watch in full by following that link) had a number of comments and queries by councillors about why when Wirral Council seeks legal advice from outside third parties, the usual procurement rules don’t apply.

By strange coincidence, that very day and an hour before the Audit and Risk Management Committee started, Wirral Council finally responded (in part) to a Freedom of Information Act request of mine made on the 23rd March 2015 for a two-page fee note for the services of a barrister called Miss Jennifer Richards QC.

Many justifications were made at the Audit and Risk Management Committee meeting for Wirral Council’s legal expenditure, such as paying for the best advice. Miss Jennifer Richards QC’s services came with a price tag of £48,384 so I’m not surprised that Wirral Council spent 8 months wasting my time and theirs by arguing about whether I should have access to this (until the Information Commissioner’s Office issued decision notice FS50585536) which I can summarise in the following sentence.

Stop being silly Wirral Council and just give John a copy of the invoices within 35 days (or appeal within 28 days) otherwise it may be dealt with as contempt of court)!

Although this may seem for a small amount of legal expenditure in the grand scheme of things, it’s just one of a series of legal expenses for Wirral Council in a case that ended up in the Court of Appeal and is in some ways connected to the Anna Klonowski Associates/Martin Morton issues and Wirral Council’s Department of Adult Social Services.

You can read that final Court of Appeal judgement online for yourself ([2012] AACR 37, [2012] EWCA Civ 84, [2012] PTSR 1221, [2012] WLR(D) 31), but this was an appeal from an earlier decision to the Upper Tribunal of the Administrative Appeals Chamber, see [2011] UKUT 44 (AAC).

As referred to in that later decision it was about “a protracted dispute between Salisbury Independent Living (“SIL”) and Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (“the local authority”) concerning housing benefit claimed by SIL to be due to its tenants and former tenants.

I have mentioned in a question at a public meeting to a councillor before that there is a cost to the public purse in legal expenses for Wirral Council not resolving issues and then these matters ending up being adjudicated by the courts.

In the interests of openness and transparency I am reproducing the invoice supplied below in full (the scan with bits blacked out by Wirral Council is of a rather poor quality).

Thirty Nine Essex Street (or 39 Essex Chambers) is the name of the London-based chamber of barristers. Weightmans is a firm of solicitors that does a lot of work for Wirral Council.

DX stands for document exchange (it’s a system that legal practices use for exchanging documents). DWP stands for Department for Work and Pensions. It seems this invoice is for the earlier Upper Tribunal stage of the legal proceedings (I hate to think what the total legal expenditure comes to for this whole case as that decision was then appealed by Wirral Council to the Court of Appeal).

Yes there are typos in the invoice (which I’ve left in the copy below). If I’ve made any mistakes in typing it up compared to the original please leave a comment pointing out where I’ve made a mistake.

In converting it from print to HTML I’ve tried to keep the formatting as close to the printed invoice as possible.


ThirtyNine
ESSEX STREET

LONDON WC2R 3AT

Telephone: 0208 7832 1111 Facsimile: 020 7353 3978 DX: LDE 298

E mail: clerks@39essex.com

Professional Fees of Miss Jennifer Richards Q.C
VAT Registration No: 606103782



DX: 718100 LIVERPOOL 16
Weightmans LLP (Liverpool)
India Buildings
Water Street
Liverpool
L2 0GA
England
 Your Ref:          MHL/186279/97
Case Ref:          174541
Page: 1/2


Various tenants of Salisbury Independent Living -v- Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council – Upper Tier Tribunal

Court: Upper Tribunal CH/1528/2012



DateDescription of WorkFeesVAT
27 Feb 2012Drafting application for permission to appeal from First tier Tribunal to Upper Tribunal£1,650.00330.00
03 Apr 2012Drafting Grounds of Appeal to Upper Tribunal
 
£2,200.00440.00
04 Jul 2012Perusal and Consideration of various documents, emails, correspondence etc and advising by telephone£1,650.00330.00
04 Sep 2012Perusal and Consideration of submissions of Department for work and Pensions filed in support of Upper Tribunal appeal and adsvising by telephone£600.00120.00
06 Sep 2012Preparation for and Advising by Telephone re order of XXXXXXXXXXXX DWP and progress of Upper Tribunal£70.0014.00
10 Sep 2012Perusal and Consideration of draft directions and drafting position statement and further directions for Upper Tribunal = 4 hours£1,100.00220.00
13 Sep 2012Preparation For and Attending Hearing
 
£2,500500.00
25 Oct 2012Between 18th October and today’s date considering bundles of evidence and identifying documents for inclusion in the bundle for the Upper Tribunal£3,000.00600.00
31 Dec 2012Reviewing Trial bundle and drafting skeleton argument
 
£6,325.001265.00
07 Feb 2013Perusal and Consideration of transcripts FTT proceedings and proposed amendments/ corrections
 
£4,125.00825.00

     Note: items marked ‘*’ are previously unbilled




















RateFeesV.A.T.TOTAL FEESC/FwdC/Fwd
20.00%£40320.00£8064.00TOTAL VATC/Fwd
TOTAL DUEC/Fwd
Rendered on 21 Feb 2013, 22 Feb 2013, 05 Mar 2013, 28 Mar 2013, 01 May 2013, 03 May 2013, 13 Jun 2013
THIS IS NOT A TAX INVOICE
 
04 Jul 2013
 

Please make payment to the following account: XXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX
We also accept payment by cheque to XXXXXXXXXXXX
Please quote case number and barrister name on BACS payment and notify us of bank tranXXXXXXXXXXXX



ThirtyNine
ESSEX STREET

LONDON WC2R 3AT

Telephone: 0208 7832 1111 Facsimile: 020 7353 3978 DX: LDE 298

E mail: clerks@39essex.com

Professional Fees of Miss Jennifer Richards Q.C
VAT Registration No: 606103782



DX: 718100 LIVERPOOL 16
Weightmans LLP (Liverpool)
India Buildings
Water Street
Liverpool
L2 0GA
England
 Your Ref:          MHL/186279/97
Case Ref:          174541
Page: 2/2


Various tenants of Salisbury Independent Living -v- Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council – Upper Tier Tribunal

Court: Upper Tribunal CH/1528/2012



DateDescription of WorkFeesVAT
25 Feb 2013Preparation For and Attending Hearing
Preparation beofre trial 30 hours
Preparation after court 4 hours
Full day in court
£12,500.002500.00
26 Feb 2013Refresher
Ful;l day in court
Preparation 4 hours after court
£2,000.00400.00
27 Feb 2013Refresher
Full day in court
Preparation 1 hour
£2,000.00400.00
04 Sep 2012Perusal and Consideration of Respondents’ Post Hearing Note and Drafting Note in Response
 
£600.00120.00
     Note: items marked ‘*’ are previously unbilled




















RateFeesV.A.T.TOTAL FEES£40,320.00£8,064.00
20.00%£40320.00£8064.00TOTAL VAT£8,064.00
TOTAL DUE£48,384.00
Rendered on 21 Feb 2013, 22 Feb 2013, 05 Mar 2013, 28 Mar 2013, 01 May 2013, 03 May 2013, 13 Jun 2013
THIS IS NOT A TAX INVOICE
 
04 Jul 2013
 

Please make payment to the following account: XXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX
We also accept payment by cheque payable to XXXXXXXXXXXX
Please quote case number and barrister name on BACS payment and notify us of bank transfer byXXXXXXXXXXXX

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Responses

  1. Well done John.

    Big thumbs up

    • Thanks, during the audit this year (as is my legal right) I requested to look at all Wirral Council’s invoices for legal work for the 2014-15 year.

      In the end I only got one invoice!

      That’s openness and transparency Wirral Council style. You have a legal right to inspect and have copies of invoices and contracts, but I roughly got 10% of the invoices I asked for and 2 out of the 3 contracts.

      The councillors’ expenses I got to see none of. Obviously nobody wants to cheese off the councillors!

      Makes you wonder whether I should be tough on Wirral Council and tough on the causes of Wirral Council eh?

  2. G’day John

    Just woke up to the shadow treasurer “Old Mcdonald had a farm until China bought it” waving a little red book that wasn’t a scouse slang book for Herr Klopp and crying about selling the country off to the Chinese.

    Well done “Phil the Very Very Deluded Dill” who are you selling Wirral off too?

    Wirral really does please itself with asset stripping, realterring golf courses, selling and not selling fire stations, opening and closing areas in front of the Clown Hall in Birkenbloodyhead and the like with the baddies protected by “The Shyster” et all.

    Lockwood/Harbac.

    Ooroo

    James

    • Nah, you see Cllr Phil Davies’ mistake was that the Chinese wanted something with a bit of prestige like a nuclear power station rather than dockland in Birkenhead/Wallasey.

      Then again wouldn’t a nuclear power station on the Wirral be about as popular with the locals as a fire station at Saughall Massie?

      Anyway I’m confused, the unions’ arguments for renewing Trident was in keeping people in jobs in the nuclear industry, so if we have all these highly skilled people in this country in the nuclear industry why do we have to ask China to build a nuclear power plant for us? Or have I missed something…

  3. G’day John

    Oh the memories of The Fudge It and Risk It Mis-Management Committee meetings.

    Thanks for the memories still a waste of lukewarm air.

    Couldn’t hear it very well John not your fault but there was some notable differences.

    No “Ankles” saying we have lessons to learn, lessons to learn, lessons to learn and whistleblowers are courted an feted.

    “Crapapple” seems to have smartened up since de-selection…..not mentally.

    The young kid on the “right” side brings the average weight of that team ha ha down to about 22 stone and the IQ up considerably.

    Clowncillor Crispy Creme Doughnut looks like he not only got rid of the only one with decency Simon Kelly but also it looks like he ate him.

    Lots of other doughnuts are available in “The Kitchen Cabinet”.

    Them Labors’ certainly graze in a good paddock…oh oh “Phil the Very Very Deluded Dill” will turn that paddock into a golf course and sell it to the Chinese.

    Still talking about the knock off from that nursing home…we will never know if it was an inside job John because they just can’t be open, honest and transparent.

    Boy does that “Shyster” have some secrets.

    The Raving Loony still manages to stay awake longer than “The Pretend Friend”.

    Phil the Dim Lib with a conscience but no cojones still hasn’t had a comb through his hair since 1950.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps John did you filum them all piling into “Crapapples Booze Bus” and heading to the pub or are they not talking to him since he put (his kids) foot in it.

    Pps Can’t wait to hear from Jimbobs on this.

    C’mon Ecca sort out Wirral “Funny” Bizz so I can go away.

    • Imagine an Audit and Risk Management Committee meeting with your favourite Australian politicians instead (this is just for you James as I doubt anyone else will understand this level of Australian slang).


      Chair: Right, welcome everybody to the meeting and welcome bogans, sorry councillors. Get the billy on as I’m sure this won’t be a long one.

      Thankfully we’ve no longer got politicians on this committee that don’t know Christmas from Bourke Street.

      So let’s make a start and let’s start with the report from our conch (and let’s give a warm Australian welcome to our auditors Grant Thornton) about too many people chucking a sickie.

      Right where’s the Head of HR? She’s not here, she’s absent, how ironic! Well that’s bonzer that is we can leave that item and I might be home in time to watch Neighbours.

      What’s next?

      Another report from a conch. This ones on dobbing people in, sorry whistleblowing. Yes we’ve learnt the lessons from that one haven’t we? (laughter from assorted politicians). So you think we should be tough on dole bludgers eh? People claiming they live alone when they don’t to get a council tax discount. Right… what’s next?

      Right I didn’t understand this next one, too many Doovalacky words in it. Could officers write reports in plain English next time please, we’re only politicians!

      So, last item and no councillors I wasn’t implying that politicians are like kangaroos loose in the top paddock.

      Ahh this ones on gifts, hospitality and expenses. Right as the public will think this is a lurk, have we got a mug here who will recommend the press and public are asked to leave? After all we pollys would prefer to keep such matters out of the press.

      Oh, so it wasn’t about gifts, hospitality and expenses for pollys? Oh that’d be right then. Anyway I’m stonkered and before people start saying we’re about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike, I’m closing this meeting.


      So what did you think James?

      • Fair Dinkum John

        Bob Hawke or Paul Hogan couldn’t have done better.

        Encore

        Ooroo

        James

        • Continued

          So what drongoes decided it would be a good idea to put the lot that extinguish the bush tellies in Saughall Massie?

          Oh it was us, ok. Well what bonzer bloke can we blame this fiasco on then?

          Oh the guy who was behind it we’ve made redundant? Oh, *****

          I’m fed up of that lair, Cllr Blakeley who’s as cross as a frog in a sock about it.

          He never stops, we all thought he’d be stonkered when he lost his job working for Esther McVey but with him you’d think it was a bush bash!

          So any ideas? Right that’s good oil, we’ll just tell them we can’t give them planning permission.

          Right, well it’s time for us tall poppies to call it a night before the cook starts phoning and asking if I’m out drinking grog.

  4. Hi John

    Ms.Richards is actually a QC not a barrister.
    Therefore I would have thought she was familiar with Civil Procedure Rules.
    Let’s hope a full disclosure was made about unlawful charging was made by Wirral Council during legal proceedings.
    As detailed in this related FOIA request currently subject to a complaint to ICO as Wirral Council have unsurprisingly refused to release information to me.
    Thanks for revealing a piece of a jigsaw which has long been covered up.
    Unfortunately I haven’t got time to blog about it – one day maybe.
    Regards,Martin

    • I looked up the dictionary definition of QC and it stated:

      “a senior barrister appointed on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor.”

      You are possibly technically right that once appointed a QC they are a former barrister, however everyone keeps calling such people barristers.

      She works at 39 Essex Chambers who describe her as a barrister on their website.

      Save yourself the high blood pressure over dealing with Wirral Council over FOI and ICO.

      It’s far easier just using the civil procedure rules to request copies of the court case for this at the Court of Appeal stage and quicker. More expensive yes, but strangely courts are more open and transparent than a local council is!

      An FOI request for anything to do with legal matters will be generally be blocked on LPP grounds or on court records grounds because of this alternative route of access (even for non-parties to the case).

      OK they charge for copies, but you’d probably get it a year quicker than under FOI!

      Here’s a link to Civil Procedure Rule 5.4C that deals with this.

      I presume you’re referring to the judicial review duty of candour. Legal representatives can only reveal what they know and once you qualify and have a few cases under your belt you’ll find that clients often tell their representatives only half the story.


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