Thank you for instructing Bhatia Best Solicitors. Although formal and computer generated, this is an important document intended to explain the terms upon which we accept instructions to act for you. It applies to all work undertaken. It accords with current guidelines and clarifies how our fees are paid from public funds, and how as a legally aided client that affects you. If there is anything about which you are unsure please ask.
1. Professional Services Information
E.U. Directive 2006/123 and the Provision of Services Regs 2009 requires that you are made aware of;
(a) VAT number [reg 8 (1)(g)] this appears on our invoices and it is; 987 2815 66
(b) Professional Indemnity Insurance [reg 8 (1)(n)]: See para below headed ‘Corporate Identity’.
(c) Access to Professional Rules [reg 9(1)(d)]: These are available from our regulator: www.sra.org.uk
(d) Complaint Resolution [reg 10(1)]: See para below headed ‘Complaints’.
2. Corporate Identity
Bhatia Best Solicitors is the trading style of Bhatia Best Limited and is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority – Registration no: 533279 (www.sra.org.uk). Bhatia Best maintains professional indemnity insurance in accordance with the rules of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Details of the insurers and the territorial coverage of the policy are available for inspection at our offices and upon request in writing.
3. Responsibility For Work
Noted above are the Caseworker with primary responsibility for managing your case and the Supervisor. However each Department works as a team and to ensure progress or maximum expertise we may delegate all or part of the work on your case to colleagues
4. Other Legal Services
We offer a 24 hour emergency help line, specialist departments covering many areas of law and referrals to other experts when necessary, Initial advice is free and without obligation. For further information visit our website at www.bhatiabest.co.uk or telephone us.
We are confident in the quality of our service. Nevertheless, we operate an internal complaints handling procedure as required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The procedure reflects the requirements of the Regulator and the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). A copy of our procedure is available upon request, but the following may help.
You may use this procedure if you have a problem with our service or our fees.
Complaints can progress through 3 stages;
Informal resolution: Just tell your caseworker or supervisor. Ordinarily this should be sufficient.
Formal complaint: If unresolved by informal resolution, start our complaints process by writing to Mr Bhatia, the Managing Director.
Appeal: Legal or service complaints that remain unresolved can be referred to the Legal Ombudsman for up to 6 months from close of formal complaint handling (www.legalombudsman.org.uk) (tel: 0300 555 0333). Fee complaints can be referred to the Court for an assessment under part III of the Solicitors Act 1974, but remember that valid unpaid bills may attract interest.
6. Public Funding
We are authorised to supply publicly funded services, (legal aid), which are available for certain areas of defence work, but not all. Please note that even if legal aid is granted the work permitted is limited in scope and value. See Private Funding below. The rules are complex, so we will always advise and deal with any written applications needed. Please note the following;
A merits test (the interests of justice test) always applies.
A means test (income and capital) applies for certain areas of work, but not all.
Representation for Police investigations is publicly funded at no cost to you. No means test applies.
Court work under a publicly funded “Representation Order” is merits tested and means tested.
Free-standing “Advice & Assistance”, and “Advocacy Assistance” is publicly funded. This is merits tested and means tested.
In the Magistrates Court, you will not be entitled to Legal Aid if you failed the means test because your means exceed an upper threshold. No appeal is possible. Your eligibility can be reassessed if your financial circumstances change. Additionally we may be able to submit a hardship review application.
In the Crown Court, you will be entitled to legal aid irrespective of your means. However, you may be assessed as liable to pay a contribution fixed by the Court. In certain circumstances you will not be required to pay a contribution;
You are under 18 years.
You receive certain welfare benefits; income support, income based job seekers allowance, guarantee state pension credit, income related employment and support allowance, or your means are below the contribution threshold.
In cases where you failed the means test in the Magistrates Court but appeal against sentence or conviction to the Crown Court you may be required to make a one off financial contribution towards the cost of that appeal. This applies where you abandon your appeal or if it is unsuccessful. The current fixed fee is between £250 and £500 dependent upon the type of appeal and will be applied retrospectively. Non-payment will be subject to civil enforcement by the Legal Aid Agency.
If you fail the merits test you will not be eligible for legal aid. An appeal is sometimes possible, and we can help with that.
Public funding is not retrospective. Unless granted from the outset, initial work will be privately funded.
You are under a duty to disclose any change in your circumstances including change of address and means. This may impact upon your eligibility for public funding.
If any application for public funding is initially refused we will happily try again or advise if an appeal or hardship review is possible.
7. Merits & Means Testing
As suppliers of legal aid we can help by making an initial assessment of your eligibility for legal aid. The rules are complex, but the following are noteworthy;
We will always advise you and deal with applications at no cost to you.
When applicable both the merits test and the means test must be met in order to be granted public funding (legal aid).
Even if legal aid is granted cost and scope limits apply, so the work permissible is strictly limited.
The merits test is defined in sched.3 Access to Justice Act 1999. The Court or the Legal Aid Agency apply the merits test and assess whether it is in the interests of justice that you receive public funding. Thus a Representation Order can only be granted by the Court or Legal Aid Agency.
When a means test applies you must provide documentary evidence of your means and that of your partner (income and capital).
If evidence of means is not immediately available the Court may rely upon your declaration only. However, evidence must then be produced asap, but within 14 days at the latest.
If evidence of means is not provided public funding may be revoked. In the Crown Court you will simply be assessed as having to pay the maximum contribution. If you do not pay the contribution interest can be charged and deductions taken direct from your income. If you have capital in excess of £30,000.00 and are convicted or plead guilty the excess of capital will be utilised to pay your defence costs. A wide range of enforcement action is available should you fail to pay. In limited circumstances a Crown Court Judge can order that you pay a contribution towards your costs even if you are acquitted.In any case where your Legal Aid is revoked/cancelled we reserve the right to terminate your instructions unless you agree to meet our costs privately.
Applications for public funding will normally be signed by you. Any false declaration may expose you to Prosecution and you will become responsible for all legal fees incurred.
Evidence of means is necessary for both you and your partner. Satisfactory evidence may be proved by; latest pay slip / Tax assessment / Accounts / benefit book / signing-on card / notification from Benefit Agency / bank statements / savings books / investment & Share Certificates
8. Private Funding
If public funding is not available for all or part of your case, you are ineligible, or you have chosen to fund your case privately, please note the following;
Unless specified above as an agreed fee, or later confirmed in writing, our charges are calculated by reference to guideline hourly rates set by the Supreme Court Costs Office, plus VAT and disbursements.
Our invoices are payable within 28 days. We may charge interest at 8% on overdue accounts, and/or decline to act further until paid.
If disbursements (payments to others) are incurred on your behalf, you must pay us as they fall due, and within 7 days of request.
We may apply an enhancement (percentage increase) to our basic rate to reflect factors such as; speed, complexity, documentation, expertise, importance, etc. This accords with Law Society guidelines and legal custom.
If a payment on account is required we will note it above or later in writing. Such money is held within Client Account and utilised to defer costs and expenses as they arise. We may request further money on account. This approach will assist you in checking your total liability. We reserve the right to decline to act further until monies requested are paid.
We reserve the right to raise interim invoices. If you want an interim account or to set a costs limit please say so in writing.
Interest earned on money received on your behalf will be calculated at the rate set by our bank, which may change. No interest will be payable to you unless the amount of accrued interest exceeds £20.00. This figure will be reviewed regularly in the light of current interest rates. This policy accords with the SRA Accounts Rules 2011
9. The End Of Your Case
Where public funding applies, if money or property is recovered or preserved for you, we are required to utilise some or all of the same to defray the cost of public funding. This is called “The Solicitors’ Charge”. State Benefits are exempt.
If you are convicted or lose your case you may be ordered to pay some or all of the Prosecution costs, or your opponent’s costs.
If you win, it is unlikely that your costs will be recovered in full from the Crown, your opponent or Central Funds. Unless publicly funded, you will be liable for any shortfall.
If at the Crown Court you are acquitted of criminal charges then any contributions paid by you may be refunded with interest. But if you paid late or not at all, which resulted in enforcement action, the cost will be deducted from any refund.
If at the Crown Court you are convicted, the Legal Aid Agency will assess whether you have to pay a contribution from capital called a Capital Contribution Order. Anyone over the age of 18 and not in receipt of a qualifying state benefit will have their capital and equity assessed (regardless of whether they have been asked to pay an income contribution or not). The amount payable under a Capital Contribution Order will be based on the final costs of your defence case less any payments already made. A Capital Contribution Order can only be made if you have more than £30,000.00 in capital/assets. You should note that the £30,000.00 capital allowance can be removed if you do not comply with requests for evidence of financial information.
10. Costs Estimate And Length Of Case
It is notoriously difficult for a lawyer to provide a precise estimate of the costs of a particular case, or the length of time a case will take, as we cannot assess at the outset what will be required. It depends in part upon the response of your opponent. However, a broad initial indication is given above which is not intended to be fixed. These estimates will be revised during your case. You will be notified as and when there is a change to these estimates.
11. Quality of Service
It is our objective to provide to you a quality service including regular updates on the progress of your matter, clearly explaining legal work involved (by telephone or in writing) and updating you on the cost of your matter. We rely on you to provide us with clear, timely and accurate instructions , to respond to us promptly, and to preserve and provide all documentation relevant to your case. You must notify us promptly of any change in circumstances relevant to your case.
12. Equality & Diversity
Bhatia Best is committed to promoting equality and diversity in all of its dealings with clients, third parties and employees. Please contact us if you would like a copy of our equality and diversity policy.
13. Data Protection
We use the information you provide primarily for the provision of legal services to you and related purposes including: maintaining client records; legal and regulatory compliance; statutory returns. Our use of that information is subject to your instructions, the Data Protection Act 1998 and our duty of confidentiality. Our work for you may require us to give information to third parties such as expert witnesses and other professional advisers. You have a right of access under data protection legislation to the personal data we hold about you.
14. Client Due Diligence
The law requires solicitors to get satisfactory evidence of the identity of their clients and sometimes people related to them. This is because solicitors who deal with money and property on behalf of a client can be used by criminals wanting to launder money. To comply with the law, we may need to get evidence of your identity as soon as possible. Details are set out separately of the necessary documents which you must provide.
It is our policy not to accept any sum exceeding £250 paid in cash. Where we have to pay money to you, it will be paid by cheque or bank transfer. It will not be paid in cash or to a third party.
Like all solicitors we have a duty to keep your affairs confidential, but this duty is overridden in certain exceptional circumstances when it may be necessary for us to make disclosure. Exceptional circumstances include:-
Where a Court orders disclosure;
Disclosure under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002;
Disclosure to external firms or organisations who may conduct audit or quality checks on our practice. These firms are required to maintain confidentiality in relation to your files.By accepting these terms of business you acknowledge our obligation to make disclosure as and when necessary which may occur without your prior knowledge and approval.
16. Financial Services
We are not authorised by the Financial Services Authority. However, we are included on the register maintained by the Financial Services Authority so that we can carry on insurance mediation activity, which is broadly the advising on, selling and administration of insurance contracts. This part of our business, including arrangements for complaints or redress if something goes wrong, is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The register can be accessed via the Financial Services Authority website at www.fsa.gov.uk/register. Sometimes the work we undertake including conveyancing, probate, family and company work which involves investments. We are able to provide a limited range of advice and arrangements in relation to investments provided they are closely linked with the legal services we are providing to you, as we are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. However, for more complex matters relating to investments we may refer you to another expert who is authorised by the Financial Services Authority, as we are not so authorised.
17. Limitation of Liability
You acknowledge and agree that if you wish to make a claim relating to or in connection with the services provided by us, the claim can only be brought against Bhatia Best and not against individual members, officers or employees. Bhatia Best has in place indemnity insurance as required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Law Society. ‘Claim’ means any claim whether arising out of this agreement or otherwise and whether such claim is in contract, tort, breach of trust or any other basis. Our maximum liability for loss or damage for breach of contract, breach of trust, negligence or otherwise (other than fraud) is £3 million for any one transaction or matter or series of connected transactions or matters. We will not be liable for any consequential, special, indirect or exemplary damages, costs or losses or any damages, costs or losses attributable to lost profits or opportunities. This does not limit our liability for death or personal injury caused by our negligence, or any other situation where the law prohibits us from excluding or limiting our liability to you.
18. Storage of Papers and Deeds
After completing the work, we are entitled to keep all your papers and documents while money is owing to us. Thereafter we will keep our file of papers (except for any of your papers you ask to be returned to you) for no more than 6 years and on the understanding that we have your authority to destroy the file after 6 years. We will not destroy documents you ask us to deposit in safe custody. If you want to retrieve your case papers or do not want them destroyed please say so in writing. Retrieval or retention (for an extended period) will be subject to an administration charge based on the time involved reviewing papers, and other work required to meet your instructions and our professional duties.
You may terminate your instructions to us in writing at any time. For example, you decide you cannot give us clear or proper instructions on how to proceed, or you no longer wish to proceed with your matter. We will decide to stop acting for you only with good reason and on giving you reasonable notice. Upon termination of our retainer with you we are entitled to be paid for all work undertaken and expenses incurred until termination. We are entitled to keep all your papers and documents while money is owing to us. When publicly funded (legal aid) a request to transfer to another solicitor must first be approved by the court.
Your continuing instructions will amount to your acceptance of these terms of business.
We hope that by sending these terms to you we have addressed your immediate questions about the day-to-day handling of your work and our terms of business. However, if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact your caseworker.
This is an important document which we would urge you to keep in a safe place for reference. If you have any queries about this document, please indicate so we can clarify.