The case of Sir Philip Green & Ors v Telegraph Media Group Limited  EWHC 96 (QB)
This matter revolved around the Claimant and two companies seeking an injunction against the Defendant to restrain them from publishing information about the Claimant. The information related to the alleged misconduct of the Claimants which had been subject to non-disclosure agreements.
A number of pre-trial applications were addressed by Warby J, including the issue of costs budgeting . Given the time-sensitive nature of proceedings, the issue of costs budgeting could only be addressed two weeks before trial.
The hourly rates claimed by the Claimant’s City of London-based solicitors ranged from £190 (for a Grade D trainee) to £690 (for a Grade A lawyer – a Partner). Other Partners’ rates claimed by the Claimants were between £510 and £635 per hour. Warby J noted that all these figures were well in excess of the guideline rates, which are £126 for Grade D and £409 for Grade A (emphasis added).
Warby J recognised that, due to the late stage of costs budgeting, the majority of costs were incurred, and as such he was restricted from budgeting incurred costs due to CPR PD 3E 7.4, and was limited to only making comments.
Warby J said he did not consider that hourly rates of more than £550 could be justified, and proportionate reductions should also be made to the lower Partners’ rates.
The Judge added: ‘Of course, fees in excess of the guidelines can be and often are allowed, and in this case the defendants (who themselves claim up to £450 per hour) and I both accept that fees above those rates are justified. But not to the extent of the differences here.’
The outcome of this hearing raises two interesting topics for discussion: the level of hourly rates in general, and, the approach the Court can take in respect of hourly rates in costs management.
Hourly rates in general
As a starting point, and as referenced by Warby J indirectly, it is well accepted that Guideline Hourly Rates are just that, a guideline. They are suitable for carrying out a summary assessment and can be a starting position for detailed assessment. Following this , the Court will take into account both CPR 44.3(5), and the 8 ‘pillars of wisdom’ contained within CPR 44.4(3), when considering whether costs are proportionate and reasonable in amount (when assessing on the standard basis). These factors can be used to support an enhancement, for instance, given the complexity of the matter, or the conduct of parties.
The Court has recently commented further on a case which claimed very high hourly rates, far in excess of the Guideline Hourly Rates. In the matter of Dana Gas PJSC v Dana Gas Sukuk Ltd & Ors  EWHC 332 (Comm), the Court found that hourly rates in excess of £900 were unreasonable, even in a matter which was factually/legally complex, had an international element and was of significant value. The Court considered that hourly rates of half that amount (hence being very similar to the rates referred to as reasonable by Warby J in the case of Sir Philip Green & Ors v Telegraph Media Group Limited  EWHC 96 (QB)), were considered more reasonable to obtain competent representation in such a case.
There is technically no limit on the hourly rates which can be charged by a firm of solicitors, so long as the client agrees to pay them, but the Court is now taking a much tougher stance in respect of how much of that hourly rate can be recovered inter partes. This leaves the firm in an unenviable position: either write off those costs claimed, or, bill the client for the shortfall.
Perhaps this was a factor in Sir Philip deciding to abandon the claim?
It is well established that the Court must walk a tightrope when addressing hourly rates while setting a budget. The Court can have regard to the constituent elements of the budget, including hourly rates (CPR PD 3E 7.3), but the Court must not over step the mark and proceed to fix or approve hourly rates (CPR PD 3E 7.10). Warby J’s comments appear to strike the right balance between the two. Unfortunately, shortly after the hearing, the Claimants abandoned the claim, and we will therefore not see at detailed assessment stage how much weight is given to comments made at costs management stage.
The interplay between hourly rates, costs budgeting and detailed assessment is an interesting one, and a topic which will, no doubt, continue to develop as more and more budgeted cases proceed to detailed assessment.
This blog was prepared by Kris Kilsby who is an Associate Costs Lawyer at Clarion and part of the Costs Litigation Funding Team. Kris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0113 227 3628.