SRA fines Irwin Mitchell for way it switched clients to CFAs

Irwin Mitchell: Court of Appeal criticism

Irwin Mitchell has been fined £9,000 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for failing to give proper advice to clients in 2013 before switching the funding of their cases from legal aid to a conditional fee agreement (CFA).

In a notice published yesterday, the SRA said the national law firm failed to act in the best interests of clients or to provide a proper standard of service to clients.

It also failed to achieve outcome 1.12 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, requiring the firm to ensure that clients are in a position to make informed decisions about the options available to them.

In addition to the fine, it was ordered to pay costs of £1,350.

An Irwin Mitchell spokesman said: “These matters occurred during a short period in 2013 when the SRA itself notes that there was considerable confusion in the run up to the LASPO law reforms as to how legal aid and other funding would operate. We’ve since taken steps to rectify issues arising from the switch decisions.”

The firm came under fire in Surrey v Barnet And Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust [2018] EWCA Civ 451, three conjoined clinical negligence cases. The Court of Appeal held that Irwin Mitchell did not act reasonably in switching its clients from legal aid to CFAs ahead of the introduction of LASPO.

Lord Justice Lewison said: “The bottom line is that in each of the three cases the advice given to the client had exaggerated (and in two cases misrepresented) the disadvantages of remaining with legal aid funding; and had omitted entirely any mention of the certain disadvantage of entering into a CFA.

“Moreover, one of the advantages of entering into the CFA was Irwin Mitchell’s own prospective entitlement to a substantial success fee.

“In those circumstances, I consider that DJ Besford [in one of the three cases] was correct in saying: ‘Where one of two or more options available to a client is more financially beneficial to the solicitor, the need for transparency becomes ever greater.’”

NHS Resolution said at the time that the decision to overturn the judgment of Mr Justice Foskett saved it £270,000 in the three cases before the court and potentially millions more in other cases where clients were switched.

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