Solicitor's lien extends only to costs incurred by client against whom it is claimed


Jack Ring, Gabriel Ring and Michael Ring (plaintiffs) v Giles Kennedy (practising under the style and title of Giles J. Kennedy & Co, Solicitors) (defendant).

Solicitors - Solicitor's lien - Costs owed to defendant by plain- tiffs and by companies wholly owned or controlled by plaintiffs - Defendant retained possession of title deeds of property owned by plaintiffs in personal capacity - Plaintiffs discharged monies owed by them in personal capacity - Sought return of title deeds - Defendant claimed entitlement to retain deeds until monies owed by companies discharged also - Whether defendant had general lien in respect of costs due by companies also.

The High Court (Miss Justice Laffoy); judgment delivered 18 July 1997.

A solicitor's lien over property in his possession, extends only to costs incurred by the client against whom it is claimed.

The High Court so held in granting the plaintiffs an order directing the defendant to deliver to them the title deeds of a premises owned by them, over which the defendant had been claiming a lien.

Dominick Hussey BL for the plaintiff; Andrew Bradley SC and Kevin Staunton BL for the defendant.

Miss Justice Laffoy said that in 1986 the plaintiffs and a number of private limited companies in which the plaintiffs owned the entire equity or a majority stake in the equity retained the defendant as their solicitor. Consequently a number of documents were transferred into the defendant's possession, including the title deeds to premises in Nicholas Church Lane, Cork. These premises were owned by the plaintiffs in their personal capacity.

The defendant's retainer was terminated on 4 July 1989 while costs were due to it by the plaintiffs and the companies. Cost accountants retained by both parties agreed to recommend that the plaintiffs pay one bill in their personal capacity while a further five bills should be paid by the relevant companies. The plaintiffs presented a demand draft to the defendant on 1 August 1996 to satisfy the amount billed to their personal liabilty. However the defendant claimed to be entitled to retain the title deeds to the premises until the full amount in respect of all six bills had been paid.

Miss Justice Laffoy said that the defendant claimed a general lien on the title deeds, not only in respect of costs due by the plaintiffs but those due by the companies as well. The defendant contended that the parties had entered into a settlement whereby the plaintiffs would pay the full amount due to the defendant and that this settlement was not severable.

The nature and extent of a solicitor's retaining lien was well settled, said Miss Justice Laffoy. A solicitor had the right to retain property already in his possession until he was paid costs due to him in his professional capacity by his client against whom the lien was claimed. However Miss Justice Laffoy referred to the decision in Turner v Deane (1849) 6 Dow & L 669 and said that the retaining lien extended only to costs incurred by the client against whom it was claimed. Thus the defendant had no lien on the title deeds to the premises for costs due by the companies to the defendant, irrespective of the fact that the companies were wholly owned or controlled by the plaintiffs.

Solicitors: Maurice Leahy & Co (Dublin) for the plaintiffs; Giles J. Kennedy & Co. (Dublin) for the defendant.