CFAs, Counsel and Rectification – Permission to Appeal granted

The case Frade & Ors v Radford & Anor [2017] EQCA Civ 1010 involved a renewed application for permission to appeal against an Order of Warby J from July 2016, which dismissed two appeals brought by the Appellant Defendants following the detailed assessment of their costs.

Master Howarth, Costs Judge, had found at the original detailed assessment of the Defendants’ costs that there was no agreement between the Defendants, their Solicitors Taylor Hampton, and Counsel, Augustus Ullstein QC, for the payment of any fees, and thus there was no liability for the Claimants to pay under an inter partes costs order. This was due to the wording and scope of the CFAs, and the omission to name all four Defendants within the CFA with Counsel.

Counsel’s CFA, dated 6 July 2011, named two Individual Defendants, but failed to include the remaining two Corporate Defendants. Following the making of the final inter partes order, the Defendants became aware of their oversight, and entered into a deed of rectification with Counsel on 30 July 2015 whereby the CFA was extended, with retrospective effect, to cover the proceedings against the Corporate Defendants.

The Claimants had argued on detailed assessment that, due to Counsel’s CFA failing to name the two Corporate Defendants, those clients had no liability to pay Counsel for any work done, and that on an inter partes assessment, the Claimants should only be liable for the fees incurred that the Individual Defendants were liable for.

On appeal, Warby J found that the deed of rectification was irrelevant inter partes. Warby J accepted that the deed of rectification “was effective to cure the position as between Counsel and his clients”, but that “events subsequent to the costs order against the Claimants were to be disregarded for the purpose of assessing their liability – at least if those events increased rather than diminished that liability”.

The Defendants therefore sought to appeal the Order of Warby J on 7 grounds, with ground 6 dealing with Counsel’s CFA and the finding that the rectified CFA was ineffective on an inter partes basis.

The Defendants argued that there was powerful evidence on file to support the fact that the failure to name the Corporate Defendants within the CFA was a simple oversight. He submitted that the CFA should be rectified to reflect the true agreement with Counsel, and that there was no rule of law that rendered the deed of rectification ineffective inter partes.

In response, Counsel for the Claimants argued that, whilst case law such as King v Telegraph Group Ltd [2005] and Holmes v Alfred McAlpine Homes (Yorkshire) Ltd [2006] allowed for a CFA to have a retrospective effect, Kellar v Williams [2004] made it clear that a variation in the charging basis between a receiving party and their client made after an inter partes costs order was ineffective against the paying party, particularly if it resulted in a larger costs burden. Counsel recognised that Kellar v Williams [2004] was persuasive authority only, being a Privy Council case, but argued that costs judges had previously followed it.

LJ Hickinbottom was persuaded that the circumstances of this case could be distinguished from Kellar v Williams on the basis it related to the rectification of a contract rather than a variation to the terms, and he found that this case raised a point of general importance that should further be considered by the Court. He therefore granted permission to appeal on Ground 6.

We await the appeal decision with interest. If a receiving party finds themselves in a similar position, this appeal decision may assist in recovering Counsel’s fees inter partes when a genuine mistake is identified and rectification of the CFA is required after the making on the order.

If you have any questions or queries in relation this blog please contact Joanne Chase (joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.

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