Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Solicitors who took millions from miners lose appeal

Jim Beresford
Beresford and Smith were struck off the Roll of Solicitors in 2008

Solicitors who took millions of pounds from compensation payouts given to sick miners have lost their appeal against being struck off for misconduct.

James Beresford and Douglas Smith, formerly of Doncaster-based Beresfords Solicitors, had denied 11 counts of serious professional misconduct.

A tribunal last year found eight of the allegations against them proven.

Three High Court judges have now upheld the tribunal decision to strike them off the Roll of Solicitors.

The Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal was told last year that the men had acted "unacceptably" by charging clients even though the government was paying their fees.

The partners were later struck off the Roll of Solicitors for conduct unbefitting solicitors.

'Vulnerable clients'

High Court judges ruled on Wednesday that the tribunal had been entitled to make "a cumulative series of findings of very serious misconduct on a huge scale in relation to thousands of vulnerable clients".

Beresford, 59, who was said in 2007 to be one of Britain's highest-earning solicitors, and Smith, 53, made millions of pounds from personal injury claims for miners under the government's coal health compensation scheme.

They were accused of not giving adequate advice and entering into contingency fee deals against their clients' best interests.

The tribunal heard that up to 30% of a miner's damages could be deducted by Beresfords.

'Nothing wrong'

The law firm had argued there was "absolutely nothing wrong" with earning substantial fees from its business conduct.

The compensation scheme was set up by the government to settle group legal actions for damages after the High Court ruled in 1998 that British Coal was liable in negligence for causing serious debilitating diseases in miners.

The scheme related to hundreds of thousands of claims from former miners and their families and involved the Department of Trade and Industry agreeing to pay lawyers' fees in successful cases. In unsuccessful cases miners did not have to bear costs.

Beresford and Smith's joint earnings went from about £182,000 in 2000 to £23,273,256 in 2006, the tribunal heard.

Simon McMillan, a partner at Beresfords Solicitors, said: "This is a matter that concerns two former partners who left the business over 12 months ago.

"They will no doubt be carefully considering their options as to what steps to take to clear their names."

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