Complaining about fees
Ideally you will avoid disputes about fees by making sure that you and your Advocate have a clear understanding as to how you will be charged, both in terms of the hourly rate (or fixed sum for a specific task) which will be charged and how often bills will be sent out. Make sure that not too long goes by without a receiving a fee note and knowing how matters stand financially.
However, if you are still unhappy with the amount you have been charged then you should take it up with your Advocate directly. Explain why you feel you have been over-charged and ask for a more detailed breakdown and explanation to how the fees were incurred. The Advocate may be willing to reduce his fees in the light of your observations.
Remember that it is an implied term of the retainer (contract) between Advocate and client that his or her fees will be reasonable. Just because you have agreed an hourly rate does not mean that the Advocate can charge you for an unreasonably long amount of time for any given job, only the time that it was reasonable to take in all the circumstances of the case. Take the matter up with the senior partner of the firm for which the Advocate works if you continue to be dissatisfied. Note the requirements of the Advocates’ code of conduct concerning fees and what a client should be told about fees. You may have grounds for complaint to the Bâtonnier.
If you are sued for fees you should pay what you admit is owing. Take advice if the dispute is of any substance.
Complaining about an Advocate
Every Advocate is an Officer of the Royal Court and subject to its ultimate authority and discipline.
The starting point with any complaint against a member of the Guernsey Bar is to raise the matter directly with the Advocate concerned. It may be that there has been a misunderstanding or that there is an acceptable explanation for whatever has caused the concern.
If the complainant is not satisfied he or she should then raise the matter with the senior partner of the Advocate’s firm, or, if a Crown Advocate, then with HM Procureur and otherwise the employer of the Advocate if employed elsewhere.
If the complainant is again not satisfied he or she should report the matter to the Bâtonnier of the Guernsey Bar.
The Bâtonnier will notify the Advocate of the complaint and its substance and invite written comment. If it appears to the Bâtonnier and the president of the Chambre that there is a bona fide complaint of any significance (i.e. that there is a case to answer) the Bâtonnier will refer the matter to the registrar of the disciplinary panel called the "Chambre de Discipline". It is of note that the Chambre is only concerned with misconduct and not cases of negligence, unless the circumstances indicate misconduct. Neither can the Chambre award damages to a complainant. The tribunal comprises three people, each appointed from a panel of Advocates, a panel of senior lawyers and a panel of lay persons.
The Registrar will examine the complaint and invite (further) representations from the complainant and the Advocate concerned. If the Registrar finds a claim of misconduct is made out, he may convene a hearing of the Chambre. It will conduct a hearing at which the Advocate will have an opportunity to put his or her side of the matter. The Chambre will reach a conclusion, either rejecting or upholding the complaint. If it upholds the complaint the Chambre may impose a variety of sanctions, ranging from a private reprimand to suspension from practice. In extremely serious cases, the Chambre may refer the matter to the Royal Court for consideration of whether the Advocate should be disbarred.
The detailed provisions concerning the constitution, proceedings and powers of the Chambre are set out in The Guernsey Bar (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2007 (as amended). There are various criminal penalties for falsely claiming to be qualified to act in Guernsey as an Advocate admitted by the Royal Court of Guernsey or as a Barrister or solicitor.