The Court of Appeal has today handed down a judgment dismissing an appeal brought by Bott & Co Solicitors against Ryanair in a case concerning the latter’s handling of claims for flight disruption compensation under Regulation (EC) 261/2004.
The judgment could have a significant impact on solicitors handling low value compensation claims and represents an important development of the law on the circumstances in which a solicitor’s equitable lien over fees will arise.
The claimant firm specialises in bringing low value flight disruption compensation claims against airlines. Ryanair had adopted a practice of settling pre-action claims directly with the Bott & Co’s clients, as opposed to communicating with the firm directly, with the result that the firm encountered difficulties in recovering its fees. Bott & Co sued Ryanair in respect of this practice, claiming that Ryanair had interfered with its equitable lien. Bott & Co also sought a declaration that a clause of Ryanair’s terms and conditions of carriage which required passengers to submit compensation claims directly to Ryanair in the first instance was an unenforceable derogation from Regulation (EC) 261/2004.
Bott & Co’s claim was dismissed at first instance and the Court of Appeal dismissed its appeal. The Court of Appeal (per Lewison LJ) held that Bott & Co had no equitable lien over fees because, in the cases with which the appeal was concerned, Bott & Co did not provide litigation services nor promote access to justice. Although it was not necessary that a solicitor should issue formal proceedings to obtain an equitable lien, Bott & Co did no more than send a letter before claim which was promptly admitted by Ryanair with no dispute at all. In those circumstances, Bott & Co had no interest in any settlement sum which equity would protect. The Court of Appeal also upheld the clause of Ryanair’s terms and conditions of carriage.
Brian Kennelly QC and Tom Coates acted for Ryanair.