An application may be made under Section 70 of the Solicitors Act 1974 (“the Act” in this section) for an order for the detailed assessment of a solicitor’s bill of costs. The application can relate to the whole bill, or can be limited to the profit costs only or to the disbursements only. Most such applications are made by the client or former client of the solicitor who delivered the bill. Solicitors may make the application for assessment of their own bills and may do so for the purposes of ascertaining a liquidated debt and then taking enforcement action. More often, solicitors who have bills that are unpaid, bring debt proceedings instead and, if prevented from obtaining a default judgment, seek summary judgment for an amount “to be assessed”. The court may then make an order that the bill(s) are to be assessed under the Act and that the solicitors will be entitled to judgment for any sum certified as being due at the conclusion of that process.
An application may also be made under s71 of the Act where a bill of costs is payable by a party who is not the client of the solicitors. For example, beneficiaries under a will or a borrower whose mortgage or charge obliges him to pay the legal costs of the lender (usually a bank or a building society). However, in Tim Martin Interiors v Akin Gump LLP 3 Costs LR 325, the Court of Appeal indicated that there were limits to the scope of an assessment under this section, in particular in respect of the items which the applicant could challenge and that in a case brought by a borrower in respect of a mortgage conventional proceedings for an account may be more appropriate (see Lloyd LJ at paragraphs 95 to 102).
The application is heard by a Costs Judge. If an order for detailed assessment is made, that detailed assessment will also be heard by a Costs Judge.