Merrix v Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust [2017] EWHC 346 (QB) – On appeal, Mrs Justice Carr confirms that the good reason test to depart from a budget relates to both downward and upward departures.

Merrix v Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust [2017] EWHC 346 (QB) – On appeal, Mrs Justice Carr confirms that the good reason test to depart from a budget relates to both downward and upward departures.

The inter-action between costs budgeting and costs assessment has been considered again in the appeal of the case of Merrix v Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust [2016]. DJ Lumb found that:

It is not helpful in the context of this debate to consider “departure” within the meaning of CPR 3.18 as being upwards or downwards. It is important to understand that the departure refers to a departure from the budget not from a fixed sum. Just because a party has incurred costs that come in at under the total for a phase is not a departure from the budget. Applying the ordinary meaning of the words the party is still within the budget unless or until the Court revises the budget. It is not the replacement of one fixed sum with another fixed sum. The purpose of the form Precedent Q is to set out the differences between the actual expenditure and the budgeted figures for each phase. It is not intended to be some advanced assessment of the recoverable costs. If having completed a line by line assessment of the reasonable costs the Court considers that the costs are still disproportionate, the Precedent Q could be a useful breakdown for the Court to use to make adjustments to ensure the resulting figure is proportionate”. 

DJ Lumb concluded that the budget and the bill of costs were different tools for Courts to manage costs, which were applied at different times. Consequently, despite the cost claimed being less than the budget, DJ Lumb (Regional Costs Judge) ordered that detailed assessment was appropriate.

This decision has been appealed to the High Court and the appeal has been allowed, with Mrs Justice Carr finding:

“In my judgment, the answer to the preliminary issue is as follows: where a costs management order has been made, when assessing costs on the standard basis, the costs judge will not depart from the receiving party’s last approved or agreed budget unless satisfied that there is good reason to do so. This applies as much where the receiving party claims a sum equal to or less than the sums budgeted as where the receiving party seeks to recover more than the sums budgeted”.

This decision now falls in line with LJ Jackson’s report and the cases of Slick Seating and Safetynet. In 2012, in the case of Safetynet Security LTD v Coppage [2012] EWHC B11, HHJ Simon Brown QC stated that “since the Claimant’s costs were within the budget approved by the court, a detailed assessment would be an unnecessary and expensive course of action to take”. Costs were awarded in the Claimant’s favour, in the amount of the budget. Later in the case of Slick Seating Systems & Ors v Adams & Ors [2013] EWHC B8 (Mercantile), HHJ Simon Brown QC observed that the Claimant had “laudably kept within the budget and exercised due control over their activities and expenditure in an exemplary fashion” and that their budget was proportionate to what was at stake, he awarded the claimant their costs as claimed.

LJ Jackson’s view of how cost budgeting would work was explained at Chapter 40 1.4 (iv) of his report:

“At the end of the litigation, the recoverable costs of the winning party are assessed in accordance with the approved budget

And at Chapter 40 1.5 of his report:

“Issues for consideration. If costs management becomes a feature of civil litigation in the future, many issues will have to be considered before any set of costs management rules is drawn up. In particular: (iv) In so far as the last approved budget is binding, should it operate as an upper limit upon recoverable costs or should it operate as a form of assessment in advance? “

At Chapter 45 of his final report the Law Society noted that:

”If the costs management proposals set out in the Preliminary Report are accepted, it would seem that detailed assessment will have a place only in the context of cases where RP’s costs significantly exceed the budget”. The Commercial Litigation Association (“CLAN”) believed that “detailed assessment will become less common if costs management is adopted”.

That said, the case of Troy Foods v Manton [2013] EWCA Civ 615, Lord Justice Moore-Bick warned that an approved budget is not a licence to conduct litigation in ‘an unnecessarily expensive way’. He added that: “I do not accept that costs judges should, or will, treat the court’s approval of a budget as demonstrating, without further consideration, that the costs incurred by the receiving party are reasonable or proportionate simply because they fall within the scope of the approved budget.”

So, the question to be answered is – will your costs be allowed in full if they are less than the budget? Yes, unless parties can show a good reason to depart from the budget – Merrix  now confirms that this applies to both downward and upward revisions to the budget.

Sue Fox is the Head of Costs Budgeting 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.

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