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 WorkFees VAT
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




















Rate Fees V.A.T. TOTAL FEES C/Fwd C/Fwd
20.00% £40320.00 £8064.00 TOTAL VAT C/Fwd
TOTAL DUE C/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 WorkFees VAT
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




















Rate Fees V.A.T. TOTAL FEES £40,320.00 £8,064.00
20.00% £40320.00 £8064.00 TOTAL 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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