1 June 2022

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Costs Lawyer says receiving party will argue novel point that not knowing identity of paying party attacks principle of open justice

A Costs Lawyer has spoken about how he is dealing with an argument that a paying party facing a detailed assessment of a £570,000 bill should not be allowed legal representation because their identity is not known. 

William MacKenzie, who works at Arch.Law and MacKenzie Costs , said the research he and counsel Erica Bedford had undertaken could not find an example of the point having been taken before.  

They are representing Cøbra, the pseudonymous operator and publisher of the bitcoin.org website, in the Senior Courts Costs Office in relation to the bill prepared for Dr Craig Wright, who claims to have invented Bitcoin under the name Satoshi Nakamoto. The London office of global firm Ontier is acting for Dr Wright. 

It follows a High Court decision in June 2021 to grant Dr Wright default judgment in his copyright infringement action against Cøbra over it hosting and publishing a copy of what is said to be Dr Wright’s academic 2018 white paper, Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System, without his consent. 

Bitcoin.org describes itself as an independent open-source project that aims to support Bitcoin development and was the first website created by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008.

Writing on social media, Mr MacKenzie said that the claimant’s skeleton argument sought to argue that Cøbra was not entitled to legal representation – because no name has been provided by Cøbra, Dr Wright said Cøbra was "attacking the fundamental principle of open justice". 

He continued: “Obviously, we disagree. Both parties were prepared for the full assessment of the costs. However, the hearing was adjourned to enable the claimant to make a formal application arguing that Cøbra cannot instruct lawyers to act on their behalf. 

“They will have to state their arguments in full. We will then respond and a hearing will take place at a later stage for this point to be determined. I am not going to go into detail here why we think the claimant is wrong – I don't want to give away our arguments. 

“But, Cøbra should be entitled to representation, the costs sought by the claimant are excessive and Cøbra should be entitled to have the objections heard.” 

Mr MacKenzie said that, from a preliminary review, “we cannot see that a point such as this has been taken before (there is no precedent), so it is going to be an interesting argument and one which we will strive to succeed on”

He told this website: “The case will test boundaries as to who Cost Lawyers can act for in detailed assessments, which in the new age of anonymous cryptocurrency and Bitcoin is an important development.”

In a tweet on the bill that sought to draw the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s attention, Cøbra wrote: “A trivial ‘copyright infringement’ case concerning an academic document which lasted a few months and ended in a default judgement costs nearly $800K in legal fees? Really? Madness.”