Part 36 offers, the basis of assessment, and knowing your expert

It is well known within the costs profession that there is some tension in the provisions of CPR 36.17, which deals with the costs consequences following judgment.

When a Claimant beats their own Part 36 offer, CPR 36.17 (4) provides that the Claimant is entitled to: interest not exceeding 10% above base rate from the date of expiry of the offer on the whole or part of any sum of money awarded, their costs on the indemnity basis from the date of expiry of their offer, interest on those costs, again, at a rate not exceeding 10% above base rate, and a prescribed percentage uplift limited to a maximum of £75,000 (10% on awards less than £500,000, and for awards more than £500,000, 10% on the first £500,000 and 5% of any amount above that figure thereafter).

However, for the Defendant, the rules are not quite so generous. CPR 36.17 (3) provides that the Defendant is entitled to costs from the date on which the relevant period expired, and interest on those costs. There’s no mention of indemnity basis costs, and no mention of any enhanced interest.

The recent costs decision in the case The Governors and Company of the Bank of Ireland (1) and Bank of Ireland (UK) PLC (2) v Watts Group PLC [2017] looked at this point closely, with the Defendant trying to persuade the Hon. Mr Justice Coulson that they should be awarded their costs on the indemnity basis following expiry of their first Part 36 offer, which they beat at trial, and which expired on 23 October 2015 (the parties had previously agreed that the Defendant should recover interest at 2% above base rate for the relevant period).

The Defendant relied on three main arguments; that the claim was hopeless and should never have been brought, that the Defendant had beaten their own Part 36 offer, and that the Claimant’s expert was heavily criticised by the trial judge.

The Hon. Mr Justice Coulson considered the principles that he had set out in Elvanite Full Circle Limited v Amec Earth and Environmental (UK) Limited [2013] EWHC 1643 (TCC), and summarised that “indemnity costs are appropriate only where the conduct of a paying party is unreasonable “to a high degree”. ‘Unreasonable’ in this context does not mean merely wrong or misguided in hindsight”. He went on to say that “The pursuit of a weak claim will not usually, on its own, justify an order for indemnity costs, provided that the claim was at least arguable”

In this case, he did not regard the case as being hopeless from the start, and he stated that the claim was, at least in part, supported by expert evidence and detailed witness statements.

He recognised that if the Claimant had beaten their own Part 36 offer then, in accordance with CPR 36.17(4)(b), they would have automatically been entitled to indemnity basis costs, however, he stated that whilst the rules were misaligned and considered unjustified by some, it remained the law that the same rules did not apply to successful Defendants.

He did, however, allow costs on the indemnity basis in relation to one discrete aspect of the case – the expert’s conduct, and he relied on the decisions of Balmoral v Borealis [2006] and Williams v Jervis [2009] in doing so. He considered that the expert’s conduct should be reflected in the costs order, but he did not consider that an order for indemnity basis costs in their entirety was appropriate. He recognised that the expert’s inadequacies had already been a factor in the Claimant losing at trial, and therefore “to order indemnity costs as well would be penalising the Bank twice over for the conduct of their independent expert”. He ordered that costs of the Defendant expert should be assessed on the indemnity basis, as well as costs of and occasioned by the oral evidence given by the Claimant’s expert at trial.

The Claimant paid a heavy price for relying on an expert who had never given oral evidence at a trial. However, the conduct of the expert did not persuade the Court to allow indemnity basis costs throughout. Nor did the fact that the Defendant had beaten their own Part 36 offer. And whilst the Claimant bank accepted that they lost the litigation “badly”, they denied that the claim was unreasonably brought and they warned about the dangers of applying hindsight to such decisions.

It, therefore, seems that there is a high bar to clear in persuading the judge to award indemnity basis costs in a claim where the Defendant has successfully beaten their own Part 36 offer. Like in this case, a paying party would need to consider and rely upon the factors listed in CPR 44.2 (4), in order to formulate a case that would persuade a judge to make such an award in the circumstances.

If you have any questions or queries in relation this blog or legal costs in general please contact Joanne Chase (joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s