A High Court judge and a couple of unruly solicitors

A judge has scolded Bird & Bird and Ontier for acting "like schoolchildren in the playground" when dealing with each other in a case.

Bird & Bird is acting for the claimant, Crypto Open Patent Alliance, in a dispute against Dr Craig Wright (a computer scientist who claims to have created Bitcoin) represented by Ontier.

Following a preliminary hearing, Judge Paul Matthews ruled in a costs judgment that Crypto was the "overall" successful party. But he rebuked both parties for "behaving in an ultra-aggressive and uncooperative way towards each other" which was "not conducive to the efficient conduct of the litigation."

Wright made a submission to the court for a detailed assessment of costs. But the clearly irritated judge opted for a summary assessment instead, saying it was "highly undesirable" for parties to argue over costs "as if they were the main issue".  This "modern kind of satellite litigation is pernicious", said the judge, and has the "effect of diminishing overall justice, and thus gives English civil procedure a bad name."

Crypto requested costs on an indemnity basis. But the judge said that as both parties had engaged in "mud-slinging", it would not be appropriate to award indemnity costs, because "to do so would be to encourage similar behaviour in the future."

The judge then took aim at the size of Bird & Bird's costs for being "way out of the norm".

"I really do not understand how the solicitors can have thought it appropriate to spend as much as 32.4 hours on research and investigation," said the judge. He added that "something must have gone seriously wrong" with the 21.1 hours of time spent on the preparation of the costs schedules. Taking a "broad brush approach" the judge cut the claimant's costs of £122,834 down to £70,000. 

Taking an increasingly headmaster-like tone, the judge berated both firms for conducting "bad-tempered litigation" which, he said, "is regrettably becoming more and more prevalent in the English courts". 

"It somehow seems to have become acceptable for solicitors to become mere mouthpieces for their clients to vent their anger at their opponents," the exasperated judge added. "It is not enough for the clients to dislike or even hate each other: the solicitors must do so too."

And seemingly close to putting the firms on the naughty step, while brandishing the cane, the judge said: "I simply do not understand why in 2022 professional, trained lawyers, who should know how to stand up to their clients, and concentrate on what is important in the litigation, think it is appropriate to behave like schoolchildren in the playground."

Paul Ferguson, litigation partner at Ontier told RollOnFriday: "We respectively disagree with this portrayal, but will take it on the chin, like grown-ups. Frankly, I’d be impressed if my children were arguing over the finer points of an exaggerated costs application rather than who gets to sit in the front seat of the car on the way to school."

Bird & Bird, perhaps fearful of being made to write lines and sit in detention, declined to comment. 

The full bollocking can be viewed here

Tip Off ROF


Of a certain generation 18 February 22 09:17

The mouthpieces are promoted more quickly and paid more.  The clients expect an echo chamber and not advice.

Anonymous 18 February 22 09:41

I never understand why many lawyers insist on 'grandstanding' in correspondence.  It usually masks problems with the case, and they end up looking rather silly.  If you have a good argument, you can put the argument persuasively without being an utter kn*b about it.

WTF 18 February 22 11:17

"We respectively disagree..." - if he really said that he should be struck off for mangling the english language. or is this just sloppy writing by the RoF scribe?

AbsurdinessBrown 20 February 22 14:27

Um...so working out how something like Bitcoin and Crypto actually work (or don't) required more than 30 minutes research by trained lawyers who presumably weren't trained in any other financial discipline (or hocking bitcoin on the side for their youtube personas)?

Shocking!  Practically everyone knows how bitcoin works.  Just ask your bus driver.   Buy low sell high.  Not much, innit? 

I seriously hope His Honour explains everything about this clearly and succinctly in his judgement including of course the difference between these things and the gun backed fiat currency the banks dosh out.   But done in a tasteful way to avoid panic and the immediate widespread melting down of grandmama's cutlery set...

And, of course, preparing the second-guessing-myself-because-costs rules-are-archaic-costs-schedules took more than say, 10 minutes?


I hope this UberJudge had decided this case in 10 minutes, and delivered his full reasons within 15.

Guess he could say he had Covid if it took him longer....

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