Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

Public interest dispute does not hold up in legal bill fight

A man whose legal bill increased because of the firm’s clerical error argued he should not have to pay costs for pursuing disciplinary action.

user iconNaomi Neilson 22 March 2024 Big Law
expand image

Peter Lewis, a former client of David De Silva’s firm De Silva Hebron, told the Northern Territory Supreme Court he should not have to pay costs because his application was made for public interest reasons.

The dispute began after Lewis complained about a $30,591 legal bill for the work done to resolve a work health matter.

In proceedings to recover the money, the firm made a “clerical error” that resulted in it claiming more money than it was entitled to.


The firm also attempted to serve Lewis with documents at an incorrect address in circumstances where it had notice of his new residence.

While default judgment in the incorrect figure was obtained against Lewis, this judgment was subsequently set aside.

“This was clearly not one of the law firm’s finest moments, and [Lewis’] irritation with the law firm may be excused,” Justice John Burns said.

Lewis attempted to pursue disciplinary action through the Law Society of the Northern Territory, but his complaints were dismissed.

He then sought to appeal this decision but was again dismissed.

A further attempt for judicial review in the NT Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal was “wholly unsuccessful”.

While the usual rule is the unsuccessful litigant is required to pay costs, Justice Burns noted Lewis was self-represented and gave him an opportunity “to make submissions in writing relating to the costs orders”.

In written submissions, Lewis claimed his application for judicial review was not just for his personal interests “but also an action brought in the public interest to clarify the powers” for the tribunal to conduct a taxation of costs in order to make a final costs order.

“I think the public needs to know what can happen in the circumstances and unfortunately it was me who in a way was a test case,” Lewis said.

De Silva and the Law Society of the Northern Territory, both defendants in the current application, argued there was no public interest.

Justice Burns agreed, finding the application for judicial review by Lewis could not be considered public interest litigation.

“The proceedings were not properly characterised as public interest proceedings, there was no public interest involved and the plaintiff was wholly unsuccessful,” Justice Burns determined.