[Editor's note: For brevity's sake, we are including only a few highlights of this High Court decision. You can view the complete decision  here. ]


Judgment Title: Condon -v- Law Society

Neutral Citation: [2010] IEHC 52
High Court Record Number: 2008 903 JR
Date of Delivery: 02/23/2010
Court: High Court
Composition of Court:
Judgment by: Kearns P.
Status of Judgment: Approved
Neutral Citation No: [2010] IEHC 52

2008 903 JR

JUDGMENT of Kearns P delivered on the 23rd day of February, 2010

“The definition of “client” in S 2 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994 must include beneficiaries of a will, where the solicitor is the executor, so that a beneficiary obtains all the protections under the Act which any other client of a solicitor would obtain.

…the whole point of the definition in s.2 was to ensure that a solicitor could not argue that he was non-accountable to beneficiaries in respect of services provided to them. If the applicant's arguments were correct, the obvious consequence would be that, although the Act defined the beneficiaries as clients, they would have no recourse to his professional body were he to provide inadequate services. That would produce the bizarre outcome that the applicant would be the only person who could make a complaint under s.8 about the services he was himself providing as a solicitor. That, Mr. Coffey submitted, would be an absurd interpretation of the statutory provisions and would entirely defeat the whole point of defining beneficiaries as clients in s.2 of the 1994 Act.

In addition, the fact that in law the beneficiaries are entitled to apply to have the applicant removed as executor simply copper-fastens the fact that he is acting on their behalf and the fact that he asserts that he is instructing himself cannot alter that. The logic of defining beneficiaries as clients is that, for the purposes of the 1994 Act, the solicitor must be treated as though he were taking instructions from them.

It is a basic principle of statutory construction that a statute be construed purposively and not in a manner which leads to an absurd outcome. The Solicitors (Amendment) Act, 1994 requires to be read and interpreted as a whole. It is an Act which, under s.1 thereof, is to be construed together with the Solicitors Acts, 1954 and 1960. The long title of the Act of 1954 provides that it is an Act to provide for, inter alia, the “control of Solicitors of the Courts of Justice”.

The definition of “client” in s.2 of the Act of 1994 not only addresses the usual position of a person who by giving instructions to a solicitor becomes a ‘client’, but, much more significantly, extends the definition to include a beneficiary to an estate under a will, intestacy or trust. This provision, in my view, is deliberately framed to cover situations where solicitors are acting in the dual capacity of executors and solicitors, because, absent such a provision, a definition confined to the ‘normal client’ would mean that an executor solicitor could not be held accountable to beneficiaries in respect of services which he provides to them. As has been pointed out, the logic of the applicant's argument would lead to the consequence that beneficiaries would never have recourse to a solicitor's professional body in situations where he provided inadequate services. This in my view would entirely defeat the whole point of defining beneficiaries as clients in s.2 of the 1994 Act.

the wider definition of “client” as contained in s.2 must necessarily be the correct one. The sole purpose of the work which the applicant was doing was to benefit the beneficiaries. In my view the clear and obvious purpose of s.2 – and the fact that a beneficiary is therein defined as a client – is to ensure that a beneficiary obtains all the protections under the Act which any other client of a solicitor would obtain. I am also satisfied that the purpose of the 1994 Act is not to create two classes of clients, namely those who can make a complaint about inadequate services and those who cannot make a complaint about inadequate services. It would be absurd to have a situation whereby the beneficiaries would be entitled to have the applicant removed as executor on application to the Court, but were powerless to advance a complaint to the solicitors' professional body. They are the persons for whose benefit the professional services are provided. In my view, on the interaction of s.2 and s.8, the definition of client contained in s.2 must prevail. I simply do not accept that the Act is designed to ensure that where a solicitor is acting both a executor of the will and solicitor that he is in consequence to enjoy an immunity from the provisions of s.8 of the Act of 1994.