Kenya County Government Workers Union v Governor, County Government of Kiambu & 4 others; Kenya Local Government Workers Union (Applicant); Leonard K Mbuvi t/a Katunga Mbuvi & Co Advocates (Respondent) (Miscellaneous Application E 207 of 2021)  KEELRC 13506 (KLR) (13 December 2022) (Ruling)
Neutral citation:  KEELRC 13506 (KLR)
Republic of Kenya
Miscellaneous Application E 207 of 2021
BOM Manani, J
December 13, 2022
IN THE MATTER OF THE ADVOCATES ACT CAP 16 LAWS OF KENYA AND IN THE MATTER OF ADVOCATE-CLIENT BILL OF COSTS ARISING OUT OF LEGAL SERVICE IN INDUSTRIAL CAUSE NO 115 OF 2006 NAIROBI AND IN THE MATTER OF KENYA COUNTY GOVERNMENT WORKERS UNION
Kenya County Government Workers Union
Governor, County Government of Kiambu
Secretary, Public Service Board Kiambu County
County Secretary of Kiambu
Principal Secretary, Ministry of Devolution and Planning
Sub-County Administrator, Thika Sub-County
Kenya Local Government Workers Union
Leonard K Mbuvi t/a Katunga Mbuvi & Co Advocates
1.The Respondent (hereafter called ‘’the Advocate’’) is a lawyer practicing in Kenya with his offices in Nairobi. He commenced legal action to recover legal fees for services rendered to the Applicant (hereafter called ‘’the Client’’).
2.The Client is a Trade Union registered in the Republic of Kenya. Its membership covers workers of the defunct Local Government and now the County Governments.
3.It is common ground that the parties to this action had a Client-Advocate relationship, the Client having instructed the Advocate to render legal services in Industrial Cause No 115 of 2006 alongside other matters. It does appear that the relationship ran into headwinds following what the Advocate has described as the Client’s reluctance to pay legal fees. Consequently, the Advocate filed the present case seeking that the court’s Taxing Master ascertains the fees that is due to him.
4.From the record, the Advocate-Client Bill of Costs (hereafter called ‘’the Bill’’) was eventually taxed and a ruling delivered on May 31, 2022. It is this ruling that triggered the application dated June 13, 2022 by the Client which is in the nature of a reference. In the application, the Client seeks for several orders some of which are alternative prayers. These are:-
5.The court considering a reference from the decision of a Taxing Master is not to interfere with the award of costs by the Taxing Master unless it is demonstrated that there was an error of principle committed by the Taxing Master in the process of taxation. This principle has been re-stated in a number of decisions including First American Bank of Kenya v Shah and Others  eKLR where the court observed as follows:
6.I will have this principle in mind in determining the current reference. The issues that I need to consider are:-
7.On the question of limitation of actions, it is contended that the learned Taxing Master was not entitled to assume jurisdiction over the taxation as it was already barred by section 4 (1) (a) of the Limitation of Actions Act. The Client contends that the Advocate’s application to recover fees was filed more than six years after the contract for provision of legal services in Industrial Cause No 115 of 2006 had come to a close. It is the Client’s contention that the last activity in the aforesaid cause was on April 11, 2013 when judgment was delivered. The Bill was filed on November 18, 2021.
8.A physical scrutiny of the parent file demonstrates that the cause has been active until June 16, 2022 when Justice Nduma Nderi delivered a ruling in it declaring the court functus officio (see Kenya County Government Workers Union v County Government of Kiambu (Cause 115 of 2006)  KEELRC 1600 (KLR)). However, there had been a change of Advocates on June 13, 2014 when the Firm of Kinuthia Wandaka & Co Advocates took over the conduct of the case on behalf of the Client from the Advocate. Therefore, the Advocate’s retainer was effectively terminated on June 13, 2014. This was approximately seven (7) years before the date of filing the Bill of Costs on November 28, 2021.
9.Although the Client states that the Advocate last appeared in the matter on April 11, 2013 to take the court’s judgment, the ruling by Judge Nduma Nderi aforesaid demonstrates that the decision of the Industrial Court was rendered on May 13, 2009. It is therefore not accurate for both the Client and the Advocate to suggest that the award was read on April 11, 2013.
10.However, the court record shows that the last time the Advocate appeared for the Client before the change of advocates aforesaid was in September 2012. That notwithstanding, the Advocate appears to have remained on record until June 13, 2014 when there was a change of advocates.
11.The court record in the taxation file shows that on March 8, 2022, the Taxing Master fixed the matter for ruling on April 12, 2022 and thereafter on May 31, 2022. Meanwhile, there is an observation by her on April 6, 2022 that the parent file had not been found. On April 12, 2012, the court ordered the Advocate to avail some documents by April 19, 2022.
12.It is noteworthy that by April 12, 2022 when the court rescheduled the ruling to May 31, 2022, the parties had filed their respective submissions on the Bill and preliminary objection; the Advocates on November 30, 2021 and March 18, 2022 or thereabouts and the Client on March 4, 2022.
13.On April 1, 2022 or thereabouts the Advocate filed a further affidavit in the cause introducing a receipt showing payment of legal fees by the Client to the Advocate on November 24, 2020. The record does not show that the said affidavit was filed with leave of the court especially now that the cause was pending for ruling on the preliminary objection and the Bill, the parties having submitted on the two issues.
14.By the time the Taxing Master was making a request to the Advocate on April 12, 2022 to avail some documents, the Advocate’s affidavit dated April 1, 2022 was already on record. It cannot therefore be said that the court’s directive on April 12, 2022 was intended to validate the impugned affidavit.
15.The Client submits that the decision by the Advocate to place the further affidavit on the court file was, in the circumstances, irregular. I agree with this observation. A further affidavit can only find its way onto the court’s record with leave of the court. That this is the generally accepted legal position is not even contested by the Advocate. In Treadsetters Tyres Ltd v Hussein Dairy Ltd (2002) eKLR, the court observed that an affidavit filed without leave remains inadmissible however long it takes to point out the violation of the rules.
16.The Client has asked me to strike out the offending affidavit. However, I reckon that the affidavit is not in proceedings before me. It was filed in the proceedings before the Taxing Master. Therefore, I will only observe that it was improperly filed and it is, in my view, invalid.
17.The Taxing Master relied on the receipt placed on the court’s record through the invalid affidavit to arrive at her conclusion that the Bill was not time barred. The receipt having been introduced through an affidavit that was invalidly on record could not have been relied on to reach the conclusion that the Taxing Master did. The said receipt was improperly on the court’s record. As was observed by Justice Nzioki Wa Makau in a related cause (ELRC Miscellaneous Application No E245 of 2021, Katunga Mbuvi & Co Advocates v Kenya County Government Workers Union, unreported), the receipt was not admissible in evidence having been filed through an inadmissible affidavit.
18.Under section 4(1) of the Limitation of Actions Act, action to enforce a legal right under a contract must be instituted within six (6) years of conclusion of the contract. The services of a lawyer to a client being contractual in nature are subject to this legal edict.
19.Quoting Halsbury’s Laws of England, 4th Edition, Vol 28 at paragraph 879, the learned Judge in Akide & Company Advocates v Kenindia Assurance Company Limited  eKLR indicated that an action by an advocate to recover legal fees must be instituted within six years of conclusion of the case or termination of the retainer. The court stated as follows:-
20.Although an Advocate is entitled to claim a retainer, this is only valid where there is evidence of some work being undertaken by the Advocate in the parent file or where there has been an appeal from the decision in the parent file and the Client has not debriefed the Advocate in the matter. In the case before me, the record shows that there was a change of advocates for the Client in June 2014 when the Client replaced the Advocate with a new set of lawyers. In the premises, the Advocate’s brief terminated in June 2014.
21.The Advocate’s brief having terminated in June 2014, he was required to recover outstanding fees within six years of this date. The Bill presented on November 18, 2021 coming more than seven years down the line was clearly time barred.
22.The Taxing Master could not rely on a receipt placed on record through an inadmissible affidavit to extent the time for recovery of fees in the cause. In this context, the Taxing Master committed an error of principle.
23.The orders of the Taxing Master dated May 31, 2022 are set aside, the Bill of Costs having been barred by the Limitation of Actions Act.
24.Costs of the reference are granted to the Client.Dated, signed and delivered on the 13th day of December, 2022B. O. M. MANANIJUDGEIn the presence of:………………….. for the Applicant………………..… for the RespondentORDERIn light of the directions issued on 12th July 2022 by her Ladyship, the Chief Justice with respect to online court proceedings, this decision has been delivered to the parties online with their consent, the parties having waived compliance with Rule 28 (3) of the ELRC Procedure Rules which requires that all judgments and rulings shall be dated, signed and delivered in the open court.B. O. M MANANI