Ensure consistency between your Costs Budget and Bill of Costs

Consistency and a true connection between Costs Management and Detailed Assessment is essential for the successful recovery of costs on Detailed Assessment.

If a costs budget is prepared incorrectly, which creates a disconnection between the costs budget and bill of costs, then you can expect a costs law obstacle course and a heavy migraine on detailed assessment.

The case of MXX -v- United Lincolnshire NHS Trust [2018] is a great example, which is summarised below:

Background, Retainer and Hourly Rates

The Claimant instructed her Solicitors in 2012 and the matter was funded by way of a Conditional Fee agreement with the rate for the conducting lawyer (Grade A) agreed at £335 per hour.

In August 2013 the rate for the conducting lawyer increased to £460 per hour (this was an error). In January 2015 the hourly rate was reduced to £350 (effective from May 2014). It was increased to £360 in 2015 and £365 in 2016.

The substantive proceedings related to a high value injury claim, with quantification being resolved in November 2016. The claim was subject to a Costs Management Order dated 2 March 2015.

Detailed Assessment Proceedings were commenced in March 2017 and the bill of costs totalled circa. £1.3 million.

Background to the Costs Management Order

At the CCMC, the District Judge dealt with estimated costs and correctly stated that the incurred costs were for detailed assessment. The hourly rate included in the costs budget for the conducting lawyer was £465 per hour.

In respect of the estimated costs, the Judge indicated a composite rate of £280 per hour, which the parties then used to agree the estimated costs for each phase.

Discrepancies between Budget and Bill

Following the commencement of detailed assessment proceedings, the Defendant compared the costs budget (Costs Management Order) with the bill of costs and noted the following discrepancies:

  • Substantial differences in relation to hourly rates.The hourly rate included in the costs budget for the conducting fee earner was £465.00 per hour, but in the bill of costs hourly rates of £335.00 and £350.00 were claimed; and
  • The bill of costs included roughly 144 to 147 hours less time for incurred costs than the costs budget.

The Defendant had legitimate concerns and made an Application for an Order pursuant to CPR 44.11, arising out of what the Defendant described as a mis-certification of the Claimant’s costs budget in the substantive proceedings.

Decision

It is well worthwhile reading the Judgment and the very articulate submissions advanced by both parties. This will help you to fully understand the decision, which was as follows:

  1. The Master did not find that the errors regarding the rates for the conducting fee earner (in respect of estimated costs) or the significant time discrepancies in relation to the time included in the costs budget and the bill of costs amounted to improper conduct.
  1. However, the Master did find that there was improper conduct in relation to the inflated rate/s claimed within the budget (as incurred costs).The Master had previously dealt with a case with some similar issues (Tucker v Griffiths & Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust 2017) and decided to apply the same sanction in this case as he did in that case, which was to disallow the items claimed in the bill of costs which related to the Costs Management Order.The Defendant had submitted that the Claimant’s bill of costs should be reduced by 75% due to the errors, but the Master said:“Whilst those behind the Defendant in both cases may have considered the sanction in Tucker to be insufficient, it seemed to me to be the only appropriate sanction. There is nothing wrong with the Bill in terms of the indemnity principle. The problem lies with the budget. I consider it to be entirely appropriate to impose a sanction in respect of the work which caused the problem.That work is the non-phase time spent creating and maintaining the budget. It would be wrong in my view retrospectively to disallow some of the budget itself”.

    The decision in this case (and in the case of Tucker) are both cases which were before Master Rowley at the Senior Courts Costs Office. Another Court/Judge could reach a different conclusion and I certainly expect to see this issue again before the Courts for the following reasons:

Lawyers do not time record consistently within their respective departments and firms, which means that discrepancies between budgets and bills will continue to regularly occur and a different Judge/Master may well adopt a more stringent approach;

Costs Budgets are regularly being prepared by non-specialists and prepared very “late in the day”, which leads to errors; and

There is a misconception that the costs budget is a more flexible document than a bill of costs i.e. the statement of truth to a bill of costs carries more weight than a statement of truth to a bill of costs.It is very important that all lawyers (and law firms) approach Costs Management consistently and understand the importance it has on detailed assessment. If that is done, then it leads to a consistent bill of costs, less obstacles on detailed assessment and no migraine – but maybe a headache!

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding Team. Andrew can be contacted at mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 336 3334

NB There are some other interesting points and views in the Judgment which I will cover in a further blog.

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Changes in relation to CPR Practice Direction 21

From 6 April 2019, Practice Direction 21 of the CPR will be amended to make it compulsory for a bill of costs or a “informal breakdown in the form of a schedule” to be prepared and filed with any application for the approval of payment of expenses from the damages of a protected party or minor.

Many cases now settle by way of a JSM or Mediation. We recommend preparing a Bill of Costs for the JSM or Mediation in order to:

  1. Try and reach settlement of costs at the ADR meeting (to avoid the time and expense of detailed assessment);
  2. If a settlement on costs cannot be achieved, then to obtain a healthy payment on account; and
  3. Proceed swiftly post settlement with any application under CPR 21 (where applicable)The bill or schedule should make a clear distinction between inter partes and solicitor/own client costs. In terms of a schedule, we recommend preparing a statement of costs for summary assessment (Form N260 or N260B) which can be adapted, where appropriate.The bill or schedule will enable the Judge at the approval hearing to properly determine the appropriate amount to be deducted from damages, which may include (in terms of a Solicitor) a success fee, ATE insurance premium and any inter partes costs shortfall (if claimed).This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding team. Andrew can be contacted at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolcitors.com or on 0113 336 3334.

 

THE INDEMNITY PRINCIPLE – WHAT IS IT? IS IT IMPORTANT?

What is the Indemnity Principle?

A long-established principle which effectively means that a successful party cannot recover more in legal costs then they are liable to pay their solicitor under the terms of the contract with their solicitors.

Why does it exist?

To indemnify the winner for the reasonable legal costs incurred on the matter. In practice, the loser contributes to those costs.

If the indemnity principle did not exist, then a losing party could face a costs liability higher than the winner is liable to pay his solicitor. This would mean that a client would make a profit from the costs of the litigation which is not the intention of costs awards. The intention is to reasonably compensate the winner for the legal costs they have incurred.

Please note that there are some exceptions to the indemnity principle, for example, inter-partes claims for costs where the matter was funded by way of a Legal Aid Certificate, and fixed costs claims i.e. where the costs incurred are lower than the costs that can be claimed inter parties.

Key Case Law

Harold v Smith [1860] 5 H & N 381

Costs orders inter-partes are awarded as an indemnity to the receiving party. They are not awarded to impose a punishment on the party who pays them.

Gundry v Sainsbury [1910]

The Court of Appeal confirmed the underlying principle set out in Harold v Smith. The solicitor had acted for no charge and tried (unsuccessfully) to seek costs from the opponent. The court held that the solicitor was not entitled to recover costs as there was no agreement from the client to pay.

J H Milner & Son v Percy Bilton Limited [1966] 1 WLR 1985

Retainer (contract for services by the solicitor) is fundamental to the right to recover costs. No retainer equals no entitlement to recover costs from clients (and therefore no entitlement to costs inter-partes).

Is the Indemnity Principle important?

Taking into account the above cases (which remain good authorities) the indemnity principle is clearly very important and something which every contentious lawyer should have a sound knowledge and understanding of. Failure to do so can lead to serious professional consequences.

The importance of the indemnity principle is best illustrated by the case of Bailey v IBC Vehicles Limited [1998] 3 All ER 570 where the Court said that the signature of a Bill of Costs is that of an officer of the Court and that mis-certification of the Bill is a serious (disciplinary) offence.

In that case Lord Justice Henry said:

“the signature of the Bill of Costs under the rules is effectively a certificate by an officer of the Court that the receiving party’s solicitors are not seeking to recover in relation to any item more than they have agreed to charge under a contentious business agreement. The Court can (and should unless there is evidence to the contrary) assume that his signature to the Bill of Costs shows that the indemnity principle has not been offended”.

When lawyers sign costs budgets, statements of costs for summary assessment and Bills of Costs it is therefore fundamentally important to ensure that there is no breach of the indemnity principle.

I am now going to consider two recent cases regarding the indemnity principle:

Gempride v Jagjit Bamrah & Law Lords of London Limited [2018] EWCA CIV 1367

In this matter, the receiving party’s bill of costs claimed hourly rates higher than those which the client had agreed to pay their solicitor within the retainer. Furthermore, misleading information was provided in Replies to Points of Dispute in respect of the availability of before the event insurance.

The matter proceeded to the Court of Appeal where the Court imposed a penalty for the mis-certification of the Bill of 50% (Part 1 of the Bill of Costs only). Whilst the penalty in the end was not too severe, the real damage for the law firm was to its reputation.

HMRC v Gardiner and Others [2018] EWHC 1716 (QB)

This matter related to an appeal by HMRC in respect of an order for them to pay the Respondents’ costs in tax appeal proceedings. The Respondents were amongst several tax payers challenging penalties imposed by HMRC for incorrect tax returns.

The Respondent’s tax advisors were at the forefront of the work carried out. Counsel was instructed to represent the Respondents and the fees were paid by their tax advisors. HMRC alleged a breach of the indemnity principle (no direct retainer). That argument failed and the key points were as:

  1. There was never an agreement that the Respondents would never pay Counsel’s fees;
  2. Counsel was there to represent the Respondents, not their advisors;
  3. No difference to a trade union funding arrangement; and
  4. The key is a liability to pay (the Respondents were liable to pay the fees that were incurred, but the tax advisors paid them).This is a useful case to rely on where costs have been paid by a third party and a challenge is raised that there has been a breach of the indemnity principle as a result.


    Summary

    As you can see from the authorities, the indemnity principle has been with us for some time. Lord Justice Jackson recommended the abolition of the indemnity principle in his Final Report in 2010. He was of the opinion that the indemnity principle caused more problems than it solved. However, in my view the indemnity principle should always be in place whilst we have a cost shifting environment in England and Wales. Otherwise, it could encourage inflated claims for costs and allow clients to profit on the costs of litigation and therefore increase claims for costs – which would be contrary to the whole purpose of the Jackson Reforms!

    Do you have any views? – please feel free to share them.

    This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding team. Andrew can be contacted at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 336 3334 or 07764 501252.

COSTS PAID BY A THIRD PARTY – BREACH OF THE INDEMNITY PRINCIPLE?

The case of HMRC -v- Gardiner and Others [2018] EWHC 1716 (QB) is a case concerning an alleged breach of the indemnity principle.

Background

The Respondents were amongst several tax payers challenging penalties imposed by HMRC for incorrect tax returns. EDF Tax Defence Ltd (“EDF”) were the tax advisors.

The Respondents were successful and HMRC were ordered to pay their costs.

Costs proceedings

EDF were at the forefront of the work carried out in the matter. Counsel was instructed to represent the Respondents and the fees were paid by EDF. HMRC therefore alleged a breach of the indemnity principle on the basis that the Respondents had not paid Counsel’s fees and that there was no direct retainer in place between the Respondents and Counsel.

The argument failed and the key points to note are as follows:

  1. There was never an agreement that the Respondent would not be liable for Counsel’s fees (see paragraph 30 of the Judgment – “The presumption that a client instructing a solicitor or representative to represent them will be liable for costs incurred for such representative may be rebutted by the paying party proving that there was a bargain between the client and the representative that under no circumstances was the client to be liable for costs”).
  2. Counsel represented the Respondents at the hearing, not EDF.
  3. The arrangement was no different to a trade union funding arrangement.
  4. The key for the indemnity principle is a liability to pay and not payment/discharge of the liability (see paragraph 30 of the Judgment – “It is liability to pay rather than who makes payment which is material”).

Had evidence been produced that the Respondents would never have been liable for Counsel’s fees, then the Court would have reached an alternative conclusion. This is therefore a useful case to rely on for parties seeking costs which have been met by a third party, but are facing indemnity principle challenges from a paying party.

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs Litigation Funding Team. Andrew can be contacted at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com
or on 0113 336 3334 or on 07764 501252.

Proportionality – a flurry of cases

Proportionality is a hot topic in the legal costs world at the moment and in the last 4 months there has been a flurry of cases from the Senior Courts Costs Office and the High Court. The cases are as follows:

Marcura & DA-Desk FZ-LLC -v- Nisomar Ventures Limited & Claus Hyldager.

Various Claimants -v- MGN Ltd [2018]

Arjomandkhah -v- Nasrouallahi [2018]

Powell & others -v- The Chief Constable of West Midlands Police [2018]

The outcomes in each of these cases are of course case specific. Every case is different, and therefore in practice, this is what makes the application of the new test of proportionality difficult to predict.

It is now fundamentally important for all litigators and costs lawyers to have a sound knowledge of CPR 44.3 (5):

Costs incurred are proportionate if they bear a reasonable relationship to –

(a) the sums in issue in the proceedings;

(b) the value of any non-monetary relief in issue in the proceedings;

(c) the complexity of the litigation;

(d) any additional work generated by the conduct of the paying party; and

(e) any wider factors involved in the proceedings, such as reputation or public importance.

Lawyers should be able to link case facts/details to the above factors and articulate those facts to a Judge at a CCMC, summary assessment or to a Costs Judge on detailed assessment (or provisional assessment).

A really important point is that value shouldn’t be given superior status, as shown in the cases of Various Claimants -v- MGN Ltd [2018] and Marcura & DA-Desk FZ-LLC -v- Nisomar Ventures Limited & Claus Hyldager (costs can be higher than damages). However, in practice, Judge’s are often tactically led by Defendants to place a greater weight on value. It is therefore important for Claimants to be alive to this and ensure the Judge gives equal consideration to each factor in CPR 44.5 (3) and to encourage the Judge to adopt a ‘holistic’ approach (May & May -v- Wavell Group & Dr Bizzari [2018]) when applying the new test of proportionality.

The ’May’ case is the only case to date to give some real judicial guidance in relation to the test and how it should be applied. The decision in that case was appealed, but last week permission to appeal was refused by the Court of Appeal. Many legal experts expected the ‘May’ Appeal to provide the Court of Appeal with the chance to issue some clarity and guidance on the test – they will now have to wait a bit longer.

The area of proportionality is starting to develop and we will see many more decisions in 2018, with some appearing harsh and some lenient. The application of the test involves a large degree of judicial discretion and therefore practitioners should not expect a great deal of consistency. If certainty is what practitioners want then fixed costs is the remedy, which is of course not an attractive alternative!

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding team. He can be contacted on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com

 

Make sure your costs budgets, statements of costs and bills of costs are prepared correctly!

The Court of Appeal recently handed down Judgment (Gempride -v- Jagrit Bamrah and Lawlords of London Limited [2018]) in a case which involved alleged misconduct in detailed assessment proceedings.

The underlying claim related to a claim by Ms Bamrah against Gempride for personal injuries. The claim settled by way of CPR 36 on 18 March 2013 for £50,000.00. Ms Bamrah initially dealt with the claim through her own law firm (Falcon Legal) before the claim was transferred to David Stinson & Co.

The case dates back to 2014 where Master Leonard in the Senior Courts Costs Office struck out Part 1 of the Claimant’s bill of costs (insofar as the costs exceeded the fixed hourly rate recoverable by litigants-in-person) due to mis-certification, on the basis that:

  1. the bill contained incorrect hourly rates; and
  2. mis-leading information in relation to Before-the-Event (BTE) insurance was provided in the Replies to Points of Dispute.

The Claimant successfully appealed that decision before His Honour Judge Mitchell in the Central London County Court. One of the most notable reasons for the reversal of the decision was that the judge found that the Claimant was not responsible for the acts and omissions of the costs consultants that were instructed (Lawlords of London Limited).

The Defendant (Gempride) appealed and was successful before the Court of Appeal. In respect of the instruction of Lawlords of London Limited, and the very important point about a Solicitor not being responsible for the acts of omissions of an agent, Lord Justice Hickinbottom said:

At a time when new business practices mean that solicitors are more frequently subcontracting work out to the unauthorised, it seems to me to be an important matter of principle that solicitors on the record – and other authorised litigators and ‘legal representatives’ for the purposes of the CPR – understand that they remain ultimately responsible for the acts and omissions of those to whom they delegate parts of the conduct of litigation, particularly where those to whom such work is delegated are not authorised… it is only in that way that the supervisory jurisdiction of the court can be effectively maintained…”

“The reverse side of that coin is that, because the solicitor has responsibility for the conduct of those to whom he subcontracts work for which he as a solicitor has been retained, then he is able to charge for that work at an appropriate rate as profit costs (together with any success fee uplift under a CFA) and not simply as a disbursement.”

In respect of the bill of costs the Court of Appeal felt that there should be a penalty for the mis-certification, but that Master Leonard’s penalty was too severe; they disallowed 50% of Part 1 of the bill of costs. The Court did emphasise that the Claimant’s conduct in attempting to claim hourly rates which exceeded those in the retainer was not, in its judgment, dishonest. However, it found that on the best interpretation the Claimant had believed that as she was essentially acting for herself (albeit under the umbrella of Falcon Legal) and was entitled to modify the retainer “at will”, that this was fundamentally wrong, and that such conduct was “unreasonable or improper” to a level that could justify a sanction.

This is a very important decision for Solicitors who instruct costs lawyers and other costs professionals. It is fundamentally important that costs budgets, statements of costs and bills of costs are prepared correctly and the hourly rates claimed do not breach the indemnity principle – the Solicitor has the overall responsibility to make sure the costs document is correct as they certify it. It is also important to make sure that information in Points of Dispute and Replies to Points of Dispute is accurate. Failure to do so can result in costs penalties, but more importantly, allegations of misconduct and associated legal reporting which would be damaging for any law firms’ or legal costs firms’ reputation.

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay, who is a Partner and the Head of the Costs & Litigation Funding team at Clarion. Andrew can be contacted on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.McAulay@clarionsolicitors.com.