Court of Protection Deputies – Compulsory E-Filing NOW!

As of Monday 7 October 2019, the pilot began for voluntary electronic filing at the Senior Courts Costs Office. E-Filing in Court of Protection cases is compulsory from 20 January 2020.

Having spoken to the SCCO, they have confirmed that from Monday, bills of costs will be rejected if submitted in paper form. The SCCO will be adopting a strict system and will return files if the bill of costs and supporting papers are not electronically submitted.

To E-File, this requires the firm to register as a user for E-Filing. Each individual user then needs to create a profile to be an ‘E-Filer’ using an email address and password (https://efile.cefile-app.com/login). Thereafter, each individual case is created, detailing the parties/representatives, references, addresses and all other relevant information. If the Deputy wants their costs provider to help them with this process, they would need to be added as a party by the Deputy’s firm on an individual basis. In order to request an assessment, professional Deputies are required to send the bill of costs, the N258B and the authority to assess (the Order) through e-filing, in PDF format. This The SCCO, for the time being, still require the files of papers to be submitted by DX/post to undertake the assessment as electronic bundling is not available.

Once your case is submitted online, you will receive confirmation by email. This confirmation can be posted to the SCCO with your paper files. The SCCO will then marry up the bill of costs and the files at their offices. The bill of costs will be manually assessed and scanned onto the system, which you can access online and your files will be returned. Eventually, the SCCO would like electronic COP bills to be submitted which will allow them to undertake electronic recalculations, but this is not possible just yet.

It’s worth noting that payment can no longer be made by cheque to the SCCO – the firm must have a PBA or debit payment facility. This is much better for the Court and payments have so far been much more manageable.

The SCCO have experienced serious staffing issues in recent months but they are now fully staffed and clearing the backlog. In respect of Court of Protection assessments, they are currently in receipt of approximately 180 files for assessment per week, so it may take a little while longer to resume a reasonable turnaround of bills.

Information about existing FAQ’s following the E-Filing in other Courts can be found here: https://leedslawsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/E-Filing-Frequently-Asked-Questions.pdf

The link to the government website regarding CE-Filing which includes step by step guides can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/ce-file-system-information-and-support-advice

For more information, please contact Stephanie Kaye.

Levels of contact in Court of Protection cases – what is reasonable?

The Case of Trudy Samler 2001 considers the level of costs incurred regarding contact and whether this is reasonable. The case looks into whether these costs are instigated by the Protected Party and whether the Deputy should be expected to be paid for them. Master O’Hare advised that part of the Deputy’s duty is to prevent such expenses being incurred as it is their responsibility to look after the Protected Party’s financial affairs. The Office of the Public Guardian and the Senior Court Costs Office advise that only one home visit per year is reasonable in routine general management costs unless there is reasonable justification for more attendances. Deputies should be prepared to give reason if several attendances have occurred during one management period.

The case concerned a young lady who suffered severe brain injuries who was subsequently awarded substantial damages. A professional Deputy was appointed by the Court to manager her property and financial affairs. The Deputy’s bill of costs was lodged on October 2000 and provisionally assessed by Costs Officer Edwards on 21 November 2000. By way of a letter dated January 2001, the Deputy did not accept the provisional assessment and set out in numbered paragraphs the reasons relied on in support of the restoration of the costs, which had been disallowed on assessment. On 13 February 2001, a hearing took place and some of the reasonable costs were restored. However, the Deputy still felt that some of the other items disallowed could be justified and restored and so by way of a letter dated 23 February 2001, sought the guidance of Mr R Stone at the Public Trust Office.

The letter included five questions to be referred to the Master of the Court of Protection. The appeal related to work done by the Deputy in relation to three interviews with the Protected Party and four meetings at St Andrews Hospital. An allowance had been made for two meetings, which in total were equal to four hours. At the hearing, the Deputy gave background to the matter and explained some of the attendance notes of the meetings that were in question.

The five numbered questions are set out below:

  1. Can the Deputy be paid for speaking to both carers and case managers to talk about the care and rehabilitation regime and the Protected Party’s well being and needs, assuming that the time spent is not excessive?

Master O’Hare advised that in his view, the Deputy can be paid if the issues discussed are substantial, if there is no alternate person to speak for the Protected Party and if the Protected Party’s estate is large enough to justify such expense.

  • Can the Deputy be paid for all contact with the Protected Party instigated by the Protected Party irrespective of the matters being raised?

Master O’Hare advised that his answer would be no. He confirmed that the Deputy should strive to minimise and avoid necessary expense. Master O’Hare further confirmed that he accepts that each case depends on its own circumstances.

  • Can the Deputy be paid for discussions with the family about the care requirements, existing care regimes, possibility for changes in the future?

Master O’Hare confirmed that the answer he gave to question one seemed to be appropriate for this question.

  • Can the Deputy be paid for discussions with the Protected Party, family, carers and case managers where there are difficulties with the care regime if the Deputy believes that the current regime is in the Protected Party’s best interests or would be subject to proper amendment?

Master O’Hare advised that his answer to question one and 3 apply equally here.

  • Can the Deputy be paid for quarterly visits to the Protected Party to deal with reporting on budgeting, asset performance, income and expenditure?

Master O’Hare advised that the practice for many years has been that it is easy for a Deputy to justify one visit to the Protected Party each year but that each succeeding visit must be separately justified. He also confirmed that the questions that usually arise in respect of this are:

  • Could the subject matter of the later visit have been dealt with at the earlier one, or postponed to a later one?
  • Could the progress made by the meeting have been achieved more economically by way of a telephone call or correspondence?
  • Was the Protected Party and his or her family if any (meaning here any adult relatives with whom he or she resides or in whose care he or she is) warned that the costs of such meeting and the costs of time spent travelling and travel expenses, will all be charged?
  • If the meeting involves time spent travelling by the Deputy, could this travel have been arranged so that the cost of it could be apportioned with other cases handled by the Deputy?

Master O’Hare advised that each case depends on its circumstances and with some Protected Party’s, the number of visits in the early months might be higher than the number of visits once a reasonable pattern has been established.

OPG consultation on ‘Hardship’ Cases

In November 2019, Clarion hosted another Court of Protection Masterclass and the event was widely attended, including speakers from the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), Slater Heelis Solicitors and Clarion. Ria Baxendale from the OPG revealed that there is currently a consultation underway to increase the percentage fixed fee allowed in Hardship Cases.  

Practice Direction 19B sets out what can be claimed by a Solicitor. Currently, where the net assets of P are below £16,000, the professional deputy for property and affairs may take an annual management fee not exceeding 4.5% of P’s net assets on the anniversary of the court order appointing the professional as deputy. This has remained the same for a number of years and these cases have been widely referred to as ‘Hardship Cases’. 

The OPG and the Court recognise that it’s very difficult to manage a client’s need with such a small fixed fee available, particularly when cases of this nature can often be the most demanding. In order to ensure that professional deputies can continue to manage the property and affairs of vulnerable clients, the fees need to be sustainable, which is an ongoing concern of professionals.  

If there are any changes made to the Practice Direction, particularly the percentage fixed fee for cases of this nature, we will further notify our database.

Brian Ferry is an Associate in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at Brian.Ferry@clarionsolicitors.com and 07741 663809 or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

Maximising Recovery: Payments and Dual Attendances

We continue to see assessments returned from the Court where payments have been reduced to 3 minutes at a Grade D hourly rate. Furthermore, we continuously see time claimed for attendances of two fee earners reduced to just one, as they see this as duplicative work. All of this has an impact on the recovery of your costs in Court of Protection cases.

The OPG Costs Guidance states, “three minutes will usually only be allowed in respect of paying bills by electronic transfer, cheque or enclosure letter” and “a three-minute unit is usually allowed for very short straightforward letters, emails or duplicative letters”. Where there are two fee earners, the OPG Costs Guidance states “The SCCO allows the cost of one fee earner to visit in all except the most exceptional cases.”

Background and Case Law

The matter of Leighanne Radcliffe, before Master O’Hare, dealt with arguments on routine payments. The Bill of Costs submitted was in relation to General Management costs for the period 14 August 2002 to 13 August 2003. The Provisional Assessment was not accepted and the matter proceeded to a formal Detailed Assessment. Thereafter, permission to Appeal was granted. 

The Appeal was heard before Master O’Hare and gave guidance on invoices and payments. He allowed 3 minutes per letter as reasonable, explaining that where there is a high volume of bill paying letters, it is not appropriate to allow 6 minute payments to each.

The letters were payments for utility bills and Master O’Hare further stated “in making that allowance I would disallow the extra time for generally “looking after the matter”.

This case also serves to reiterate the decision made by Master O’Hare in the Jamie Walker case in terms of 3-minute charges for routine cover letters. It is noted that time spent checking an invoice, arranging payment and preparing the cover letter/cheque is non-fee earner work and therefore a minimal 3 minutes is allowed for the whole process.

The case of Garylee Grimsley (1998) deals with the arguments of time claimed for two fee earners in attendances. Master O’Hare referred to R -v- Legal Aid Board Ex Parte Bruce (1991). He stated that:

“Solicitors are not to be expected to carry knowledge of all the law in their heads… if the problem is outside the scope of their experience they will wish to discuss it with others who are more qualified… But knowledge of the law, however acquired or recalled, is their stock in trade… In so far as expense is involved in adding to this stock in trade, it is an overhead expense and not something that can be charged to the client”

Recommendations

Always expect time claimed for payments to be reduced to 3 minutes at a Grade D rate. In order to maximise recovery, we advise to delegate this work to a lower grade fee earner and agree with your instructed Costs Draftsman to include 3 minute payments within the bill.

In respect of two fee earner attendances, only claim the highest fee earner at an attendance. If you feel there are exceptional circumstances, fully explain these in the attendance note in order for the Costs Draftsman to include this in the Bill of Costs. Again, referring to the OPG guidance the SCCO will only allow these in exceptional cases. However, there is no guidance on what is deemed as an exceptional case.

Brian Ferry is an Associate in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at Brian.Ferry@clarionsolicitors.com and 07741 663809 or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

The latest Precedent H guidance notes

The precedent H guidance notes have never aligned with the precedent S guidance notes (Phases and Tasks Reference and Lookup table in Precedent S (bill of costs)) until the update to the precedent H guidance notes which was made last month, this update has addressed some of those discrepancies.

Please find below the amendments that have been made to the guidance notes:

Pre-action: The precedent H guidance notes states that settlement discussions, advising on settlement and Part 36 offers before proceedings were issued are to be included in the Preaction phase. However, in the Precedent S guidance these discussions are included in the ADR/Settlement phase (task “Other Settlement Matters”) . The precedent H guidance notes must be followed therefore any preaction settlement discussions should be included in the preaction phase. 

Issue/statements of case: The precedent H guidance notes have been amended to include “amendments to statements of case” in this phase, the previous guidance stated that these should be excluded from this phase. This amendment has resulted in alignment with the Precedent S guidance. 

CMC: The precedent H guidance notes have been amended to include any further CMCs that have been built into the proposed directions order whereas previously the notes stated that any additional CMCs were not to be included in this phase. The position remains regarding any estimated CMCs that have not been proposed in the directions order, these are to be included as a contingent cost. Any disclosure work, i.e. list of disclosure issues, EDQ  should be included in the disclosure phase.  

Budget – The costs in relation to this phase includes inconsistencies which present numerous difficulties. The Precedent H Guidance Notes includes “correspondence with opponent to agree directions and budgets, where possible”, and “preparation for, and attendance at, the CMC”. The same applies in relation to the PTR phase, which includes “preparation of updated costs budgets and reviewing opponent’s budget”, “correspondence with opponent to agree directions and costs budgets, if possible” and “preparation for and attendance at the PTR”. While the precedent H guidance note specifically excludes preparation of the costs budget for the first CMC, it doesn’t specifically exclude preparation of Precedent R. The Precedent S description of this task is “work on budgeting between the parties following initial completion of the first budget, including the monitoring of costs incurred against the budget and any applications for variation of the budget” –  it doesn’t mention the drafting of Precedent R and seems to relate to work post CMC.

Furthermore, in para 7.2 of PD3E the 2% cap relates to all recoverable costs of the budgeting and costs management process other than the recoverable costs of initially completing the Precedent H. If some costs budgeting items are included in the CMC and PTR phases (i.e. following the Precedent H Guidance Note), practically how is the 2% figure on the front page of Precedent H calculated? Should it include the budgeting items which appear in the CMC and PTR phases of Precedent H, or is it exclusive of them? And, what exactly is meant by “budget process” in relation to this 2% cap?

Unfortunately there is no guidance regarding the budget process or “associated material” that is referred to in the guidance notes – does this include composite summaries, breakdowns of costs?

One solution for this phase is to time record in line with the precedent S guidance notes and then when it comes to preparing the budget assess what aspects of the % cap belongs in the CCMC stage. If the time is recorded as CCMC it is a more onerous task to ascertain what element of the CCMC phase is relevant to the % cap.

Trial: The guidance note has been amended to now include counsel’s brief fee in the trial preparation phase rather than the trial phase. 

Settlement phase: The precedent H guidance note previously excluded mediation from this phase, this has now been amended to include mediation. 

Definition of budgeted and incurred costs – CPR 3.15 and PD 3E para 7.4 Incurred costs are now all costs incurred up to and including the date of the first costs management order, unless otherwise ordered. Budgeted costs are all costs to be incurred after the date of the first costs management order.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of Costs Management in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3389, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

 

 

 

 

Interesting comments from the MXX v United Lincolnshire NHS Trust case

I posted a blog at the end of June about the case of MXX v United Lincolnshire NHS Trust (2018) (please follow this link to read the blog https://clarionlegalcosts.com/2019/06/25/ensure-consistency-between-your-costs-budget-and-bill-of-costs/).

In the Judgment of Master Rowley, there are some interesting points which I felt were appropriate to cite and share through this separate blog. Those points are as follows:

Master Rowley found that the inflated incurred costs amounted to improper conduct and said the following at paragraphs 57 and 58:

57.      The need to comply with the indemnity principle must be on page 1 of any introduction to the law of costs. It is fundamental throughout the issues regarding what sums can be claimed from one party by another. It is, or should be, engrained in everyone dealing with solicitor’s costs. Whether it is a detailed bill of costs that is being produced, a summary assessment schedule or even simply a breakdown in a letter being provided to the opponent, it is imperative that the costs set out as being payable by the opponent do not exceed the sums payable by the client to their solicitor. The case of Harold v Smith (1850) 5 H. & N. 381 is more than 150 years old but it remains correct that the sum claimed should not be a punishment to an opponent nor a bonus to the client (or solicitor) which is the effect of claiming more costs from the opponent than are payable by the client.

  1. I do not accept that the statement of truth for Precedent H is intended to be a composite statement or one akin to signing an estimate. If that was so, in my Judgement, the Statement would simply say that the document was a fair and accurate estimate of the costs which it would be reasonable and proportionate for the client to incur in litigation. But that is not what it says. It specifically refers to incurred and estimated costs separately and it seems to me that a solicitor signing a Statement of Truth has to consider whether the incurred costs figure is fair and accurate separately from whether the figures for estimated costs are fair and accurate. There is absolutely no reason why the incurred costs figure should not be accurate. There are many reasons to understand that the estimated costs figure is no more than educated guesswork. The change in the hourly rates for future work identified by Irwin Mitchell is one of those reasons.

    The importance of the indemnity principle (which I have blogged on previously and you can find here https://clarionlegalcosts.com/2019/02/12/the-indemnity-principle-what-is-it-is-it-important/) is clearly set out above at paragraph 57 of the Judgment.

    At paragraph 58, it is clear that the signature of a Precedent H should not be taken lightly, it is a statement of truth and is not akin to signing an estimate, the signature on the Precedent H is not intended to be a composite statement. Paragraph 58 also indicates that the courts do not expect the incurred costs to be calculated incorrectly because of the inclusion of any incorrect hourly rate/s. However, the courts would be open to the use of composite rates for estimated costs given that hourly rates could clearly change (both upwards and downwards) over time. If you consider this applies to any budget that you are preparing, then make this clear in the assumptions to your budget, this will provide you with protection on detailed assessment and ensure transparency with the court and your opponent.

In the Judgment, Master Rowley did not find that the significant difference between the costs claimed in the bill and those in the costs budget (144-147 hours) amounted to improper conduct. Master Rowley said the following:

61.      Similarly, I do not think that the claimant’s approach to the amount of hours claimed in the budget and subsequently in the bill founds any significant criticism. My understanding of the limit of 1% of the total budget for the preparation of the precedent H was originally allowed for on the basis that clients would have been billed for the incurred costs by that point and so relatively little work would be needed to consider the incurred costs. If that is correct, it takes no account of matters dealt with under contingency arrangements such as a CFA when no bill will have been rendered by the time the Precedent H is prepared.

  1. It seems to me to be unrealistic to expect a party to vet the time recorded on a line by line basis in the manner suggested by the Defendant here. The bill of costs has taken nearly 100 hours to prepare and that involves a considerable greater sum than would be allowed by 1% of the budget. Whilst I accept Mr Bacon’s comment that the extent of the remuneration is not the touchstone for the effort that should be involved, it does seem to me to be a pointer as to the expectation of the time to be spent in preparing a budget. Most of the time will be spent in the estimation of future costs and much less will be spent in relation to incurred costs. Including items which are unlikely to be recoverable between the parties’ assessment runs a risk of the budgeting judge concluding that those costs are high and commenting about this in the CMO.

  2. I do not think that it can be said to be unreasonable for a solicitor to include in the budget, the time that the various fee earners have recorded on their system as being sums which the client is potentially liable to pay.

  3. Similarly, having considered that time to be vulnerable to challenge on a between the parties’ assessment, it can only be reasonable for the drafter of the bill of costs to exclude such time. Where, as here, the time is extensive, the incurred costs actually claimed between the parties will be significantly reduced. But that does not necessarily mean that something improper has occurred when the budget was prepared, in my view.

Personally, whilst I cannot say that the discrepancy in time was improper, I struggle to accept the Master’s decision that there can be such a large discrepancy on detailed assessment (because the bill drafter excludes time when drafting the bill of costs). It is important that incurred costs are broadly correct in terms of time incurred and absolutely correct in terms of hourly rates. If not, it creates an incorrect starting point on detailed assessment and questions the signature of the costs budget. Furthermore, 1% can be a generous amount when preparing a high value costs budget (A £10 million budget would potentially allow a charge of £100,000 to prepare the costs budget).

The decision of the Master also troubles me for the following reasons:

  1. It is possible to prepare a budget as a bill of costs i.e. prepare a bill of costs which can be converted into a costs budget for the CCMC. Whilst this incurs greater cost, it effectively means that the costs are front-loaded so that the costs for drafting the bill at the conclusion of the matter are much lower.
  2. Lawyers have historically struggled with recording their time (and continue to struggle) in a way that reduces the time required to draft a bill of costs, not to mention time recording by using the phase, task and activity codes. It therefore surprises me that the Master seemed to accept an approach of calculating incurred costs by simply ‘lifting’ time from a time recording ledger. To my mind, time needs to be vetted correctly and incurred costs should not change significantly between those stated in the costs budget and those stated in the bill of costs.
  3. Where a costs management order has been made and the matter proceeds to a JSM or mediation, it can be possible for the parties to agree costs at the JSM or mediation based on the costs management order (Claimant providing some very basic updated figures). If the budget was not based on the accuracy expected within a bill of costs, then any breach of the indemnity principle would not be identified and there is a real risk that costs irrecoverable inter partes would potentially be recovered from the paying party.
  4. Furthermore, the Master’s approach is in real contradiction to the requirements of a document that contains a statement of truth, of which the budget is one of those documents.

    It is therefore imperative that the incurred costs figure is not only calculated correctly in terms of the hourly rate but is calculated correctly (with no significant errors) in relation to inter partes incurred costs. When litigating, each party should be able to proceed on the basis that the incurred costs included in the budget are correct and can be relied upon. Whilst the Claimant substantially reduced the incurred costs in the MXX case (which was to the benefit of the Defendant), it does raise a real question over the costs management process if a party can change their incurred costs figure, which in this instance was by nearly 150 hours.

The aim of this blog was to share some of the wider points which arise from the Judgment of Master Rowley. I would be interested to hear any other people’s views and opinions which can be shared through this blog.

Please note that the case was the subject of an Appeal and I will blog separately (and shortly) in relation to the outcome of the Appeal. The outcome does not impact the points raised in this blog.

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs Litigation Funding Team. He can be contacted at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 336 3334.

Revising Precedent H Costs Budgets – Don’t delay

Revising Precedent H Costs Budgets

Don’t delay in applying to revise your Costs Budget if a significant development has occurred in your litigation, and on those occasions where there may have been a delay don’t shy away from applying.

It is not left to a party to choose whether to revise its budget and to take its chances on a detailed assessment, parties must apply to revise their budget if there has been a significant development in the litigation – Sharp -v- Blank & Ors [2017] EWHC 3390 (Ch) (21 December 2017) (hereafter Sharp).

In the event that there has been a significant development in the litigation, parties are not able to defer the determination of additional incurred costs to detailed assessment – those incurred costs form part of the request for additional costs:

Master Marsh “I do not consider the rules and practice direction intended that only certain elements of the costs relating to significant developments must be dealt with as revisions with the other elements, those pre-dating the hearing or, on another view those pre-dating the application, being dealt with on a detailed assessment. This approach would run contrary to the purposes of costs management and lead to unnecessary fragmentation of the costs dealt with at a detailed assessment.

Master Marsh found that the costs incurred from the costs management order and up to the application to revise the Cost Budget were not incurred costs for the purpose of the revision, they were future costs. Master Marsh focussed on the language of the CPR referring to the choice of the use of “future” rather than “budgeted costs”, as follows:

The language used in paragraph 7.6 is of critical importance because it provides the jurisdiction, on the defendants’ case to make the revisions they seek. It is notable that the language is at variance with the remainder of the rules and PD3E. It refers throughout to the revision of a “budget” (not, in accordance with the new wording, “budgeted costs”). It is explicit, however, that revision is in respect of future costs. The final sentence of this paragraph gives the court a discretion to approve, vary or disapprove the revisions “… having regard to any significant developments which have occurred since the date when the previous budget was approved or agreed”. On one view, such language points towards the last approved or agreed budget being the jumping off point for a revision because it is the budget that is being revised”.

Master Marsh concluded that the “Costs which have been incurred since the date of the last agreed or approved budget (or the antecedent date) that relate to significant developments are, for the purposes of revision, placed in the estimated columns of the revised Precedent H in one or more phase. In some cases, it may not be obvious where they go (for example a late application for security for costs) but I can see no reason why Precedent H may not be adapted as necessary to accommodate work that does not easily fit in”.

He also considered that there would be a degree of retrospectivity if the costs management regime was to work.

It is essential that you apply to revise your Costs Budget if a significant development has occurred in your litigation, to not do so puts you at risk of not being able to recover any costs that are in excess of your budget.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of Costs Management in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3389, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.