Sir Rupert Jackson’s proposal regarding costs capping is now a reality, with the launch of the voluntary capped costs pilot scheme on 14 January in London, Manchester and Leeds Business and Property Courts.
The aim of the pilot scheme
The aim of the scheme is to improve access to the Courts through:
- streamlining the procedures of the Pilot Courts;
- lowering the costs of litigation;
- increasing the certainty of costs exposure; and
- speeding up the resolution of claims.
The pilot will provide for a cap on recoverable costs for each stage of the case, and an overall cap on the total, rather than a fixed sum. The maximum a party will be ordered to pay will be £80,000.
The promise of a fixed recoverable costs scheme was first made two years ago by Sir Rupert Jackson in his IPA annual lecture “The Time Has Come”. His view was that “high litigation costs inhibit access to justice. They are a problem not only for individual litigants, but also for public justice generally. If people cannot afford to use the courts, they may go elsewhere with possibly dubious results. If costs prevent access to justice, this undermines the rule of law”. He predicted, or perhaps rather hoped, that the fixed recoverable costs project could be accomplished during the course of that year.
However, the flurry of chatter and speculation regarding the fixed recoverable costs scheme was left behind in 2016 and, as we moved into 2017, it was replaced with Sir Rupert’s proposals regarding costs capping, which he advised would follow the model used in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.
About the pilot scheme
This newly launched pilot scheme will last for two years. For those cases with a monetary value that are less than £250,000, and where the trial is two days or less, the voluntary pilot scheme is available. It cannot be adopted, however, for any cases where there are allegations of fraud and dishonesty; where extensive disclosure, witness evidence or expert evidence is likely; or where the claim will involve numerous issues and numerous parties.
Agreement of both parties is essential if the pilot’s shortened litigation process is to be pursued. The claim will exit the pilot if there is any dispute by any party in that regard. This shortened process is expected to be less costly, with the initial statements of case being limited in length and accompanied by the documents upon which the party proposes to rely.
Further, witness statements will also be limited in length, with the general rule being reliance on oral evidence of two witnesses. There are restrictions placed on expert evidence, which will only be permitted if the court is satisfied that it’s necessary, and it is likely to be on a single joint basis.
The trial judge will take a hands-on approach, to ensure that the trial estimate is adhered to, and has the power to strictly control cross-examination. When the several imposed time limits for filing the documents are considered collectively, the whole process – from the issue of the claim to the hearing of the trial – should not exceed 11 months.
The costs for each phase of the litigation is restricted to the cap and an assessment of costs is still required. Costs budgeting and detailed assessment are not applicable, with summary assessment being the favoured choice of the rule makers. The normal practice of filing the statement of costs prior to the hearing and the assessment of those costs then taking place at the trial will be avoided. Instead, the parties shall file and exchange schedules of their costs incurred in the proceedings not more than 21 days after the conclusion of the trial.
The schedules shall contain details regarding each applicable stage in the Capped Costs Table. The maximum cap of £80,000 for recoverable costs does not include court fees, VAT, enforcement costs and wasted costs, which are claimed additionally.
For those instances where Part 36 offers have been made the cap is increased to £100,000, and so Part 36 offers continue to play a central role.
With claims now able to be issued and pursued to trial in less than 12 months, and with costs not exceeding £80,000, will more parties engage in litigation? Or, conversely, will this restriction on the amount of costs that can be recovered be off putting? Only time will tell.