Arguments concerning solicitors hourly rates have always been a central issue in the assessment of costs, regardless of whether there is a detailed assessment or a summary assessment. Those arguments can be particularly important in cases where the rates claimed exceed the guideline hourly rates. Indeed, those who represent paying parties will deploy numerous arguments to achieve reductions, but one argument that is becoming increasingly common is the suggestion that an hourly rate in excess of guidelines should not be awarded unless a ‘clear and compelling justification’ has been given.
This particular line of argument derives from the case of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd & Ors v LG Display Co Ltd & Anor  EWCA Civ 466. In that case the court was faced with a summary assessment involving hourly rates ranging from £801.40 to £1,131.75 for a Grade A and £443.27 to £704 per hour for a Grade C. The justification provided for those rates was that it is almost always the case the rates will exceed guidelines in competition litigation. Rates in excess of guidelines were not allowed and Males, LJ that:
“[…] If a rate in excess of the guideline rate is to be charged to the paying party, a clear and compelling justification must be provided. It is not enough to say that the case is a commercial case, or a competition case, or that it has an international element, unless there is something about these factors in the case in question which justifies exceeding the guideline rate.”
Males LJ made a similar finding in Athena Capital Fund SICAV-FIS SCA & Ors v Secretariat of State for the Holy See  EWCA Civ 1061 when faced with rates well in excess of the guidelines.
Although the above decisions are frequently relied on, the point made by Males LJ may not be applicable in all cases. This is because in both Samsung and Athena, the court was dealing with a summary assessment rather than a detailed assessment and the two types of assessment are conceptually different. That difference was recently explained Master Rowley in Various Claimants v News Group Newspapers Ltd  EWHC 827 (SCCO):
“70. I also accept the argument that the GHR may be a useful starting point in a detailed assessment as well as in a summary assessment. I do not, however, consider that the guidance given by Males LJ regarding the need for a “clear and compelling justification” for exceeding the GHR extends with any great force to this particular situation.
71. The GHR are provided predominantly to assist judges who do not specialise in costs cases to deal with a summary assessment of costs when faced with the successful party’s summary assessment schedule and competing arguments from the advocates.
72. The relevance to the GHR being a starting point in detailed assessments is no more than a reflection of the scarcity of any other starting point. Expense of time calculations or other potential starting points, as is demonstrated here, are invariably absent. But a starting point by its very name does not suggest it is the finishing point and that is particularly so where the court has the opportunity for the parties to address it in detail in respect of the CPR 44.4 factors.”
The Master went on to allow hourly rates in excess of guidelines. Accordingly, the decision in Samsung does not represent an additional test for receiving parties to overcome and detailed submissions in respect of the eight pillars of wisdom in CPR rule 44.4 are likely to be more effective in securing hourly rates in excess of guidelines.
Robert Patterson is a Senior Associate in Clarion’s Costs and Litigation Funding Team, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.