One of Britain’s highest paid civil barristers tried to double his publicly-funded Legal Aid fees by claiming for work that he had not done, a hearing was told today.
In a case that will do little to change the public perception of the exuberant financial rewards enjoyed by the nation’s top lawyers, Jeremy Rosenblatt is said to have attempted to claim payment for meetings he had not attended and research that was irrelevant.
In his defence Mr Rosenblatt, who was listed as the country’s highest-earning civil barrister in 2008 with an income of £508,000, said that some judges were “generous” when it came to overclaiming for work and others even “encouraged” such claims.
It is alleged that Mr Rosenblatt “wrongly claimed money” when he submitted fee forms which, if paid, would have increased his pay from a base rate of £230 to £1,223. But three of his proposed increments were rejected by the judge and he was eventually paid £678.
The five-person disciplinary panel was told that Mr Rosenblatt’s claims were made following an adoption case which was heard in May and October 2006.
Following the case the barrister handed in a Special Issue Payments form to the judge. But, it is claimed, he had ticked five boxes he was not entitled to under the Legal Services Commission guidance.
In one box he wrongly claimed a 'special preparation fee' for 10 hours of legal research, the Bar Standards Board was told. At £40.20 an hour this would have added an extra £402 to his legal aid bill.
Christopher Wilson, for the BSB, said: “It is only when the case becomes exceptionally complex that you can claim these amounts.In entering a figure in that box, he was claiming hours in excess of that normally carried out for proceedings of this type.
“Any figure he entered in this box...is something he was not entitled to claim. Clearly I say he falsely represented that the work was necessarily done for this case.”
The hearing also heard that Mr Rosenblatt allegedly tried to claim for two face-to-face meetings when only phone calls took place. And the barrister tried to increase his fees by claiming that the hearing took place in the High court, rather than the county court.
Mr Rosenblatt, who denies five charges of professional misconduct, said he had not been dishonest because some judges had encouraged the practice. He said: “I believe it is honest, yes, because that is the practice that is borne out in certain courts and certain jurisdictions in all reality. In my mind that is honest, if a judge encourages it. It might be said that you should say ‘thank you but no thank you’ and I understand that.”
But he added that since the complaint was made against him three-and-a-half years ago he had not attempted to raise his fees since.
It is not the first time Mr Rosenblatt has come to public attention. In 2000 he successfully had a parking ticket fine quashed by arguing that it contravened article six of the Human Rights Act. He persuaded Westminster City Council that by doubling the fine of a second ticket, which he was not aware had been issued, they were effectively hampering his right to a fair trial.
And in 2001 he was involved in the case of a British couple who had bought twin baby girls from America on the internet. The court ruled the girls had to be returned to their natural parents, who were separately battling for custody, in the USA. Mr Rosenblatt represented the biological father.
The disciplinary hearing continues.