When a simple theory becomes a complex reality; the interplay between costs management and detailed assessment

The Jackson reforms envisaged a world where legal costs would be dealt with through the click of a button. LJ Jackson introduced costs budgeting in a bid to control the level of costs spent, he revamped the concept of proportionality to limit costs for claims where costs incurred considerably exceeded the sums in issue, and he created the electronic bill of costs in a bid to remove the pain staking process of multi day detailed assessment hearings.

However, theories do not always play out well in practice. The plethora of costs case law relating to costs management, proportionality, and bills of costs since the reforms means that it is crucial, now more than ever, that a litigator approaches costs correctly if they are to reap the full reward of their labour.

Regardless of how a case evolves, if a litigator is fortunate to be on the favourable side of an inter partes costs order then, providing the Court orders that costs are to be assessed by way of detailed assessment (and not summary assessment), it is paramount that they present the costs claimed correctly if they are to limit their outlay on detailed assessment costs and maximise their profit recovery.

First and foremost, the litigator should be on the front foot. If the litigation is approaching a mediation or joint settlement meeting, it is wise for the litigator to know exactly where they stand in terms of costs. This is particularly important if there is a sense that the paying party may have an appetite to do a deal on both damages and costs. If the case has been subject to costs management, it is crucial that the costs incurred are carefully considered and calculated to show the extent to which the costs fall (or exceed, with reasons for such) within budget. This is the first question that any competent paying party representative is going to ask. If a precedent Q has been prepared, and the litigator is armed with sufficient information for reasons why any costs may fall outside scope (such that the Court did not provide for a mediation and therefore the costs of such fall outside the budget scope) then any negotiations are more likely to prove fruitful, whilst saving the paying party the additional cost of detailed assessment proceedings. This would not be possible without a phased breakdown of costs.

If, however, the parties are unable to reach an amicable agreement as to costs, it will likely be necessary for a full bill of costs to be prepared in order for detailed assessment proceedings to be commenced. This is where it is crucial that a costs lawyer who fully understands the intricacies of costs management orders and the inter play with the bill of costs should be utilised.

The SCCO’s decision from 29 October 2018 in the matter Vertannes v United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust shows just how crucial this understanding is. This matter had been subject to a costs management order. The Court then proceeded to order that revised budgets should be prepared to reflect a significant change in the litigation. The parties prepared but were unable to agree revised budgets, and the claim settled before the Court considered the revised budgets. The Claimant proceeded to file a bill of costs that failed to comply with CPR 47 PD 47.5.8(8) (“the bill must be divided into separate parts so as to distinguish between the costs claimed for each phase of the last approved or agreed budget”), the Claimant’s argument being that the Court never approved the revised budget. However, the Court found that at no time had the original costs management order been replaced, and that the bill should therefore have been split so as to reflect the position against the original costs management order. The Claimant was, therefore, ordered to re-draw the bill of costs.

The inter play between costs management and detailed assessment can be complex. The Court may make multiple costs management orders during the life of a claim, where by a previous order is “topped up”, which impacts the way in which a bill is drawn, or the Court may elect to only costs management certain phases of the case, which, again, has an impact on the bill. It is, therefore, crucial that the costs lawyer is aware of all the elements of the case that will impact the drafting of the bill so as to ensure compliance with CPR 47 and the accompanying practice direction, together with maximising recovery.

Joanne Chase is a Senior Associate Costs Lawyer in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors.

You can contact her at joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

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