Sharp v Blank and Ors – What development in litigation is deemed significant enough to warrant a revision to the precedent H costs budget?

The case of Sharp v Blank and Ors addresses the difficult question – what development in litigation is deemed significant enough to warrant a revision to the precedent H costs budget?

The key points of the claim relate to the approach to be taken when applying to revise a budget and are as follows:

  • Future costs – The court found that the language used in paragraph 7.6 is of critical importance and that it is explicit – the revision is in respect of future costs.
  • Range of reasonable and proportionate costs – The court is only required to set figures that are within a range of reasonable and proportionate costs. A range suggests that the process is designed to produce figures for each budget phase in a way that is not a slave to arithmetical calculation. The court is approving, or the parties are agreeing, figures that are not ‘right’ as such, but rather figures that are within a range of acceptability.
  • Interim applications – The costs of interim applications may fall outside the budget, however the incidental costs are a significant development and a revision to the budget is required for those costs. However, interim applications may also be significant developments in addition to the consequences that flow from an interim application.
  •  Modest increases – A significant development must be understood in light of the claim – its size, complexity and the manner in which the litigation has unfolded – and also from the likely additional costs that have been, or are expected to be, incurred. The amount of the additional expense is not determinative, but it is difficult to conceive that a development leading to modest additional legal expenditure, that is modest in proportion to the amount in the relevant budget phase or phases, is likely to be significant development.
  • A development in litigation may not be immediately obvious – In some cases it may not be immediately obvious that a development in the litigation is significant development; a development which appeared at first sight not to be significant may change character.
  • Mistakes in the preparation of the budget – A mistake in the preparation of a budget, or a failure to appreciate what the litigation actually entailed, will not usually permit a party to claim later there has been a significant development because the word “development” connotes a change to the status quo that has happened since the budget was prepared. If the mistake could have been avoided, or the proper nature of the claim understood at the time the budget was prepared, there has been no change or development in the litigation. By contrast, if the claim develops into more complex and costly litigation than could reasonably have been envisaged, that may well be the result of one or more significant developments.
  • Retrospectivity – Some degree of retrospectivity is inevitable if the costs management regime is to be made to work – parties cannot be expected to down tools until a decision is made regarding the revision, however any request for a revision should be made asap.
  • Claiming additional costs at detailed assessment – If there have been significant developments, the budgets must be revised. A claim for additional costs should not be left until a detailed assessment because the parties need to know what is their exposure to costs and the costs of detailed assessment should be minimised.

Following application of the above the court found as follows:

Extension to the trial timetable – yes, it was found that the court had to ask itself at a relatively high level the essential question, namely is this a significant development. Costs management has to be, at least in part, an impressionistic exercise. It seems to me that is the right approach when considering whether there have been significant developments.

Change in number of documents for disclosure – yes under the circumstances of this case.

Application for permission to rely on additional expert and the incidental costs – yes.

Cs 3rd party disclosure application – no – The application was part of the claimants’ task in preparing the case of a trial and it did not lead to work that can properly be characterised as giving the court jurisdiction to revise the defendants’ budget

Questions to three of the Defendants’ experts – Allowance has to be made for future events and, as they unfold, there will be pluses and minuses; some items are more expensive and some lead to savings. It is not appropriate only to take work which has cost more than was originally anticipated and to say that there has been a significant development. There must be something more than merely a modest increase in the anticipated cost of the work to amount to a significant development.

Response to Mr Ellerton – Mr Ellerton sought to include additional evidence, consequently the Defendant had to produce additional witness evidence and supplemental notes form 2 experts. The court found that this was a development, but that in the context of the claim and the modest additional sums claimed that this was not a significant development.

A significant development will depend on the impact that change has on that case and will be case specific.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and 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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