Chan Yin Na v Union Medical Centre Ltd (HCPI 804 of 2003)

We look at a recent case, Chan Yin Na v Union Medical Centre Ltd (HCPI 804 of 2003), where the amount of fees claimed by counsel was severely criticised.

In Chan Yin Na v Union Medical Centre Ltd (HCPI 804 of 2003), the Plaintiff sought costs of HK$11m against the Defendants. At the original taxation hearing, leading and junior counsel's brief fees and other charges were substantially taxed down. For example, leading counsel's brief fee was reduced from HK$500,000 to HK$406,000 and junior counsel's brief was slashed from HK$350,000 to HK$225,000. There were several other items which the taxing master did not allow or reduced substantially.

The Plaintiff sought a review of taxing master's decision, which was refused. The Plaintiff then asked the court to review the decision of the taxing master.

The matter was heard before the PI Judge, Hon Bharwaney J, who agreed with the assessment made by the taxing master, save for a few minor items. In his Judgment, Hon Bharwaney J not only agreed with the taxing master's decisions, he went further saying, the taxing master was "exceedingly generous". He did not agree with the Plaintiff's submission that higher fees should have been allowed because the case involved complex issues of medical negligence. In his view:

"this was not a medical negligence case involving extremely complicated science requiring many hours of work by counsel to understand that science and to prepare for the cross-examination of renowned experts on the subject of that complicated science".

He even went so far as to say that if he was the taxing master, he might not have been as convinced as the learned master that this was such a complex and weighty case as to warrant such high fees. However, the defendants did not seek to review any items of costs allowed by the taxing master, so he was not in a position to reduce any of the fees allowed by the taxing master.

The Judgment also looked at the issue of whether a review of taxation by a judge was a hearing de novo (meaning hearing it afresh) or whether the judge would only interfere with the decision of the taxing master if he has made an error of law, or taken into account irrelevant matters, or failed to take into account relevant matters. While Hon Bharwaney J recognised that a judge may have the power to re-open the taxation hearing and hear everything afresh, he declined to do so under the circumstances of this case.

We hope the Judge's observations in this case sound a warning to counsel to keep their charges to a reasonable level. In future, it may well be worthwhile proceeding to taxation of counsel's fees if they refuse to accept a reasonable offer