The importance of an accurate and correctly certified Bill of Costs…….

The case of Jago v Whitbread Group plc relates to the Defendant’s application for an order pursuant to CPR 44.11(1) & (2), which reads as follows:

“The Court may make an order under this rule where –

  • a party or that party’s legal representative, in connection with a summary or detailed assessment, fails to comply with a rule, practice direction or court order; or
  • it appears to the Court that the conduct of a party or that party’s legal representative, before or during the proceedings or in the assessment proceedings, was unreasonable or improper.”

The Defendant requested that the Court disallow all or part of the Claimant’s entitlement to costs on the grounds of her solicitors improper and/or unreasonable conduct during the detailed assessment proceedings.

The following is a brief summary of the substantive case and detailed assessment proceedings:

  1. The Claimant brought a personal injury claim against the Defendant, which settled for damages of circa £41,000, with costs to be subject to detailed assessment, if not agreed.
  2. The matter settled on 4 March 2015 and on 12 March 2015, the Claimant disclosed an informal statement of costs to the Defendant. The statement of costs was a two page document which totalled £101,677.21. The statement included a success fee of 20%, various disbursements in the total sum of £537.00 and two and half hours for preparing and checking the statement of costs. The statement was signed by a senior solicitor and partner at the Claimant’s firm.
  3. On receipt of the statement of costs, the Defendant’s solicitors responded requesting disclosure of the Claimant’s conditional fee agreement, with the Claimant’s solicitors responding on 18 June 2015, stating that the Claimant “……was not subject to a CFA in regards to this matter”.
  4. The Defendant’s solicitors responded querying why therefore a success fee of 20% had been claimed in the statement of costs when no CFA was in existence.
  5. On 19 November 2015, the Claimant served notice of commencement of detailed assessment, with the bill of costs totalling £91,474.41. This bill of costs was of course over £10,000 less than the sum claimed in the statement of costs. Disbursements had been reduced to £430.00 and profit costs had also been reduced. A success fee of 25% was claimed in the bill of costs, despite the correspondence on 18 June 2015 stating that the matter was not subject to a CFA.
  6. The bill of costs was certified by the supervising solicitor and partner. A claim of three and a half hours was included by a law costs draftsman and one hour by the supervising solicitor to check the bill of costs. The certification confirmed that the bill of costs was valid and accurate (and therefore no breach of the indemnity principle).
  7. In December 2015, the Defendants served points of dispute and shortly thereafter amended points of dispute raising a number of significant queries and challenges to the bill of costs.
  8. On 15 January 2016, the Claimant filed and served a fresh bill of costs. Instead of amending the existing bill of costs, the Claimant’s solicitors effectively started the detailed assessment proceedings again with a redrafted bill of costs. The redrafted bill totalled £56,719.00, which represented a reduction of circa. £35,000.00 from the total sum claimed in the bill of costs served in November 2015.
  9. In respect of the revised bill of costs, the success fee was removed. Disbursements were reduced further to £385.00 and the profit costs sought in the bill were significantly reduced. Again, a claim of three and half hours was included in the bill of costs for a law costs draftsman preparing the same, together with an hour for the supervising solicitor/partner checking and certifying the bill of costs.
  10. On receipt of the redrafted bill of costs, the Defendant’s solicitors wrote to the Claimant’s solicitors highlighting the procedural error in that they should have simply amended the existing bill of costs rather than creating a new bill of costs.
  11. In response to that correspondence, on 8 April 2016 the Claimant’s solicitors filed and served a further bill, this time an amended bill of costs. The total sum claimed in the bill was £55,393.19. Profit costs were reduced again together with a further reduction to disbursements. Again, the bill was signed and certified by the supervising solicitor and partner.


    Outcome

    Master Whalan found the Claimant’s solicitors’ actions to be “improper” and “unreasonable” and imposed the following penalty for the “improper” and “unreasonable” behaviour:

  • The Claimant’s entitlement to costs be disallowed to the extent of 50% of the assessed costs allowed on detailed assessment.
  • Specific deductions to the bill of costs (see paragraph 41 of the Judgment). These reductions included time in relation to other work done i.e. preparing, checking and certifying the bill of costs.

    In reaching his decision, Master Whalan stated that the breaches in the case were significant, repeated and either unexplained or unjustified (paragraph 40 of the Judgment).

    This is an excellent case which demonstrates the importance of preparing an accurate bill of costs and ensuring that a bill of costs does not breach the indemnity principle before certifying the same. What is clear from the Judgment is that Master Whalan would probably have been forgiving for the errors made in the first instance, but the failings the second time round and further failings thereafter were not capable of forgiveness and resulted in the severe penalty reduction of only 50% of assessed costs for the Claimant’s solicitors. So ensure statements of costs and bills of costs are prepared and checked properly!

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

Indemnity Basis Costs Awards

The case of MacInnes v Hans Thomas Gross [2017] contains some very useful information for any law firm or litigant considering the issue of indemnity basis costs awards. Pages 2 and 3 are the relevant pages to consider in the judgment.

In the case, the First Defendant applied for an indemnity basis costs award against the Claimant, but this was rejected by The Honourable Mr Justice Coulson, and in doing so he considered a number of authorities in relation to such awards. Those very useful authorities are at paragraph 3 of the judgment and are as follows:

  1. Indemnity costs are appropriate only when the conduct of the paying party is unreasonable “to a high degree. ‘Unreasonable’ in this context does not mean merely wrong or misguided in hindsight” see Kiam v MGN Limited [2002].
  2. The court must therefore decide whether there is something in the conduct of the action, or the circumstances of the case in general, which takes it “out of the norm” in a way which justifies an order for indemnity for costs, see Excelsior Commercial & Industrial Holdings Limited v Salisbury Hammer Aspden & Johnson [2002].
  3. The pursuit of a weak claim will not usually, on its own, justify an order for indemnity costs, provided the claim was at least arguable. The pursuit of a hopeless claim (or a claim which a party pursuing it should have realised was hopeless) may well lead to such an order, see Wates Construction Limited v HGP Greentree Allchurch Evans Limited [2006].

The review of key authorities in the judgment is very useful and provides an excellent starting point for anyone tasked with considering whether to apply for an indemnity basis costs award.

Do remember that an indemnity basis costs award should always be sought in the appropriate cases, due to the fact that proportionality is not a consideration/factor when costs are assessed on the indemnity basis. There is also case law that supports the position that a receiving party is not restricted/held to its costs budget where costs are assessed on the indemnity basis (Slick Seating Systems [2013] and Kellie v Wheatley [2014]). CPR 3.18 also supports this.

The new test of proportionality has had a real impact (negatively for receiving parties) on some reported cases (see, for example, The new test of proportionality – 66% reduction) and therefore an indemnity basis award would provide protection for a receiving party from the new test of proportionality. Furthermore, there is a strong argument that an indemnity basis costs award escapes fixed costs (Broadhurst v Tan [2016]) and therefore applications for indemnity basis costs awards may well be on the increase given the likely extension of fixed costs for civil and commercial litigation in the not too distant future.

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 on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com.

 

Interest on Costs

The case of MacInnes v Hans Thomas Gross [2017] is a very useful case to read as it covers a number of topics including indemnity basis costs awards, interest, proportionality, costs budgeting and payments on account. The focus of this article is the useful contents from the Judgment in relation to interest on legal costs. Pages 3, 4 and 5 are the relevant aspects of the Judgment to consider in this regard and I set out below the key points:

  • The court awarded pre-judgment interest at a rate of 4% above base rate and relied heavily on the Judgments in McPhilemy v Times Newspapers Limited [2002] and KR v Bryn Alyn Community (Holdings) Limited [2003] EWCA Civ 383 when making its decision.
  • In relation to post-judgment interest the court ruled that it should not start to accrue until 27 April 2017 (which was 3 months after the date of the Judgment). The reason for this was because the court awarded a very substantial payment on account and followed the logic of Leggatt J in the case of Involnert Management Inc v Aprilgrange Limited and Others [2015] which provided some very useful guidance in relation to post-judgement interest. The logic behind the deferral of 3 months was the fact that by that time Detailed Assessment Proceedings should have been commenced, and therefore the paying party would have had sight of the bill and could start to make a realistic assessment of the amount of their liability. Without sight of the Bill of Costs, it could not do that.
  • It is important to note that in relation to the post-judgement interest point, the deferral of interest for 3 months was primarily due to the fact that a Costs Management Order was in place and the court made an order for a substantial payment on account. If a Costs Management Order was in place, but a substantial payment on account was not made then one would expect the court not to make such an Order in relation to post-judgment interest i.e. interest would run in the traditional way (8% from the date of Judgment).
  • The position in relation to pre-judgment interest should be considered by any law firm acting for a client on a private fee paying retainer. When it comes to the issue of interest on costs, the court has a wide discretion as to when interest starts to run under CPR 44.2 (6) (g).

Therefore, where appropriate, law firms should be seeking interest from before the date of Judgment as it will be beneficial to the client given that the rate is likely to be 4% above base rate from when the law firm’s invoices were paid (invoices could date back a number of years).

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 on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com.

Pre 1.4.13 CFA – Advocacy or Litigation services provided OR not?

The recent case of Choudhury -v- Markerstudy could have serious repercussions for receiving parties in Detailed Assessments.  Here is a brief summary of the case:

  • Rohan Choudhury (a child) suffered an accident on 12 March 2013. Rohan was a minor and was therefore represented by her Mother, Mrs Choudhury.
  • An Infant Approval hearing took place in January 2015, where the Court approved a settlement figure of £1,050.00.
  • The Claimant was represented by Irwin Mitchell solicitors, who at the time of instruction, were acting under a Collective Conditional Fee Agreement (CCFA) with Aviva.
  • Following the accident Aviva wrote to the Claimant, and thereafter, Irwin Mitchell wrote to the Claimant explaining the terms in which they would be retained. Those letters were sent before 1 April 2013, but no other work was carried out.
  • Mrs Choudhury instructed Irwin Mitchell by signing a document on 1 April 2013 and returning it. The document that she signed was the pre 1 April 2013 CCFA.
  • The Defendant argued that the retainer was invalid because it was signed and entered into on 1 April 2013, but was based on a regime which on 1 April 2013, was no longer available to litigants (and therefore invalid).
  • The Claimant stated that this was incorrect because ‘Advocacy or litigation Services were provided to the Claimant under the agreement in connection with that matter before the commencement day’ (Section 44.6, 6b of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 – ‘LASPO’).
  • The Court ruled that ‘Advocacy or litigation services’ had not been provided and therefore the retainer was invalid. As a consequence, no costs were payable by the Defendant to the Claimant as there was no indemnity between the Claimant and the Claimants Solicitors.

The District Judge clearly adopted a strict interpretation of LASPO and what amounts to ‘Advocacy and litigation services’. The paying party did not dispute that if litigation services had been provided then the retainer would have been valid.

This Judgment will no doubt cause concern to receiving parties.  Whilst the Judgment is only at County Court level, it will encourage paying parties to raise such arguments. There will still be plenty of cases left in the system where the additional liabilities were entered into very close to 1 April 2013.  In fact, it was widely reported in many legal publications (at the time) that law firms had signed up clients to Conditional Fee Agreements, and in particular ATE insurance, very close to the deadline of 1 April 2013.

Many believe that a black and white approach should be adopted in relation to the inception i.e. if the additional liability was incepted pre 1 April 2013 then it is valid and the associated additional liability recoverable, however, if it is entered into post 1 April 2013 then the additional liability is not recoverable.  The issue over ‘Advocacy or litigation services’ will create some interesting arguments!

In my opinion, what law firms should have done is sent a “holding” Letter of Claim to the Opponent (or likely Opponent) prior to 1 April 2013.  Surely, this would have provided protection from the ‘Advocacy or litigation services’ point?

The key practical point from the Judgment is that the work which was done before 1 April 2013 was effectively ‘client care’ work. In reality, the case will only have an impact on clients who were signed up to CFA’s and/or ATE insurance premiums close to 1 April 2013.  For example, if a client was on a private fee paying retainer from say January 2013, but switched to a CFA retainer in late March 2013, then ‘Advocacy or litigation services’ would have most likely been provided by the time the CFA was entered. This scenario would therefore be safe from the argument.

It is widely reported that fixed costs for all fast track work and low level multi-track work will be introduced in October 2018. Those who draft the rules as to implementation need to do so carefully as otherwise arguments and satellite litigation will take place.

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

 

THE NEW TEST OF PROPORTIONALITY – 66% REDUCTION!

 

The recent case of Rezek-Clarke -v- Moorfields Eye Hospital is another example of how the new test of proportionality is being applied and the impact it is having on the receiving parties’ claims for costs.

This case related to a low value medical negligence claim.  The Claimant instructed his solicitors on 31 July 2013 and letters of claim were sent to the proposed Defendants on 20 June 2014. The Defendant admitted liability on 14 November 2014, but denied causation.  Proceedings were issued against the Defendant on 1 October 2014 (mainly due to impending limitation issues).

The claim, at best, was worth £5,000.00 and was compromised on 8 July 2015 for £3,250.00.

On 29 October 2015, the Claimant’s solicitors commenced Detailed Assessment Proceedings.  The bill of costs for detailed assessment totalled £72,320.85.  The matter proceeded to a Provisional Assessment before Master Simons on 21 July 2016, where he assessed the bill and reduced this to £24,604.40. On 24 August 2016, the Claimant requested an oral hearing in relation to the provisional assessment and that oral assessment took place on 10 January 2017.

The judgment dealt solely with the issues of proportionality and the ATE insurance premium. The Master did make some increases (to other items within the bill of costs) to what he originally allowed on Provisional Assessment, however, these other items/issues that were heard at the oral hearing did not form part of the judgment.

The key points which arose from the judgment are as follows:

Proportionality

At paragraph 19 the Master referred to the well-known case of Jefferson -v- National Freight Carriers Plc [2001] EWCA Civ 2082 where HHJ Bolton said the following:

“In modern litigation, with the emphasis on proportionality, it is necessary for parties to make an assessment at the outset of the likely value of the claim and its importance and complexity, and then to plan in advance the necessary work, the appropriate level of person to carry out the work, the overall time which will be necessary and appropriate to spend on the various stages in bringing the action to trial, and the likely overall cost. While it is not unusual for costs to exceed the amount in issue, it is, in the context of modern litigation such as the present case, one reason for seeking to kerb the amount of work done, and the cost by reference to the need for proportionality”.

Master Simons, in his judgment, seemed to be critical of the Claimant’s solicitors inability to be able to produce any evidence to support any case planning or consideration regarding the appropriate costs to be incurred (taking into account the fact that the claim was always going to be of a low value).  Looking at this point from a practical perspective, it seems logical for any Claimant solicitor, as a matter of course, to produce a case plan from the outset of a case together with a skeleton costs budget.  Documentation (evidence) of this nature could prove invaluable when trying to demonstrate to a Master or Costs Judge that case planning and consideration did take place. In the absence of such evidence the receiving party could be left in a more vulnerable position, particularly in low value claims where costs are globally disproportionate.

Furthermore, Master Simons ruled that the new test for proportionality does apply to liabilities incurred post 1 April 2013. In this case the ATE insurance premium was one which is still allowed under the Recovery of Costs Insurance Premiums in Clinical Negligence Proceedings (No. 2) Regulations 2013). This contradicts the decisions of Master Rowley in King v Basildon and of Master Brown in Murrells v Cambridge University. However, it is consistent with the decision of Master Saker in BNM v MGN.

What is abundantly clear is there is disagreement at the Senior Court Costs Office as to the application of the new test of proportionality in relation to post 1 April 2013 additional liabilities and clarity is required to ensure that any confusion is avoided.

ATE Insurance Premium

The ATE premium totalled £31,976.49. On Provisional Assessment, the Master reduced the premium to £2,120.00 (a reduction of circa. 93%).  This was reduced on the basis of proportionality.

The Claimant’s solicitors made the usual submissions in relation to ATE premiums and relied on the well-known case of Rogers v Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. However, Master Simons ruled that the case was distinguishable from ‘Rogers’ as ‘Rogers’ was decided pre-LASPO.  Paragraph 64 of the Judgment is useful to read in relation to this point, but essentially it explains that the test of proportionality was fundamentally different when the ‘Rogers’ case was decided. In ‘Rogers’ the Court concluded that if it was necessary to incur an ATE insurance premium, then it should be adjudged a proportionate expense.  However, now proportionality trumps necessity.  No doubt the ATE insurance market had some tears in their eyes when they read this paragraph of the judgment as it will no doubt cause challenges to those ATE insurance premiums which remain in the system.

Another interesting point made was at paragraph 67 of the judgment where the Master made a comment in relation to the calculation of an ATE insurance premium:

“……As the premium is deferred, surely the basis of calculation should be on the reasonable amount of the fees for the medical reports, not the actual cost…….”.

The Master therefore felt that the premium should be calculated taking into account the amount allowed on assessment and not the claimed amount.  I suspect such an approach would receive some real opposition from the ATE insurance market, as ATE insurers pay the claimed amount to experts if the claim fails.

Another interesting point is made further on in paragraph 67:

“……Furthermore, it is often the case that the fee claimed for a medical report includes the fee charged by a medical agency.  I query whether any attempt is made by solicitors or the insurers when calculating the premium, to distinguish between the actual cost of the report and the fee paid to the medical agency……”.

Clearly, for those acting for paying parties, there are some useful questions and points to raise in relation to post 1 April 2013 ATE insurance premiums following this judgment.

Preparation of the bill of costs

A separate point raised in the submissions regarding the ATE insurance premium was the calculation of the premium and in turn, the preparation of the bill of costs.  This was quite a serious point and demonstrates the importance of preparing accurate bills of costs for detailed assessment.  The premium was claimed at £31,976.49, but during the oral detailed assessment hearing, the receiving party explained that the premium had been calculated incorrectly, and that the correct amount was £22,255.23.  However, the Claimant could not provide an explanation regarding why there had been an error in the calculation and (more importantly), why the bill of costs had been certified as accurate and true when it contained such a substantial error (the error being £9,721.26).

This did seem to trouble the Master and paragraphs 61, 62 and 63 are useful to read in this regard.  The Master raised concerns regarding the lack of evidence that had been provided to support the correct level of the premium. The methodology in calculating the premium at £22,225.23 was based on witness evidence. The only evidence in front of the Master was a Schedule of Insurance which showed a premium of £30,916.50, and therefore the failure to include the correct (or evidence the correct) premium in the bill of costs caused some real prejudice to the Claimant.  At paragraph 63, Master Simons stated that he would have been justified in disallowing the premium in full.

This demonstrates the importance of preparing accurate bills of costs and ensuring that each item is correct before a bill is signed and detailed assessment proceedings are commenced. The premium was claimed incorrectly and even when the error was identified the Claimant failed to explain how the new and correct figure was calculated. This failure could not have helped the Claimant in their submissions that the premium was proportionate or support their arguments that the drastic reduction at provisional assessment was incorrect.

Summary

The real headline point that can be taken from this case is how the courts are approaching the application of the new test of proportionality to additional liabilities. This case further adds to the current confusion as to how the new test of proportionality is to be applied in relation to post 1 April 2013 additional liabilities.  Hopefully, by the end of the year we should have clarity as the Court of Appeal is due to look at the matter at some point in October.  Until then, we should all expect a mixed bag of outcomes (or adjournments) on detailed assessment from the different Masters and Costs Judges all around the country!

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 on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com.

 

Third Party Funding – Regulation or Not?

John Hyde of the Law Society Gazette recently gave a useful update on the issue of statutory regulation in relation to third party litigation funding. You can access his short article by following this link.

I personally think that this is a very interesting topic/debate. As I understand the position, the government is wary of imposing statutory regulation at this moment in time as it is concerned that it could stifle the funders who are currently in the litigation funding marketplace and deter any new entrants. In light of the substantial funding changes post LASPO, it is important not to make any changes which could impact on access to justice. There is currently a voluntary code of conduct in place and optional membership of the Association of Litigation Funders (http://associationoflitigationfunders.com/), but is this enough?

Third party funders can earn substantial amounts from successful cases and therefore surely some form of regulation should be introduced to ensure that both individual and corporate purchasers of third party funding are protected.

What are your thoughts in relation to this topic? Would you regulate the area now or would you give the area time to develop and then look to regulate in due course? My view is the latter.

I await your comments with interest.

 

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

Proportionality – a common sense decision from Master Rowley

In the case of BNM v MGN Limited [2016] EWHC B13 (costs) the Senior Costs Judge applied the new test of proportionality to post Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) additional liabilities. The claim was for defamation and therefore the additional liabilities (despite being incurred post 1 April 2013) were recoverable inter partes (additional liabilities for defamation and mesothelioma cases remain recoverable inter partes post LASPO).

In BNM the Senior Costs Judge based his decision on the fact that pursuant to CPR 44.3(7) the old test of proportionality was not preserved for additional liabilities incurred post 1 April 2013. The key paragraphs from BNM on this point are as follows:

28 – It seems to me that the intention was that the rules as to the recoverability of additional liabilities would be preserved in relation to those additional liabilities which remain recoverable after 1 April 2013. However, the old test of proportionality was not preserved in relation to those additional liabilities. Had that been intended it could have been achieved quite easily by a further exception in CPR 44.3(7).

31 – A consequence of the reduction of the base costs to a proportionate figure will be that the success fee, a percentage of those base costs, also reduces. It would be absurd and unworkable to apply the new test of proportionality to the base costs, but the old test of proportionality to the success fee.

32 – Ring fencing and excluding additional liabilities from the new test of proportionality would be a significant hindrance on the court’s ability to comply with its obligation under CPR 44.3(2)(a) to allow only those costs which are proportionate.

In the case of King v Basildon & Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust [2016] EWHC B32 (Costs) Master Rowley reached a difference conclusion, albeit the additional liabilities in this care were incurred pre 1 April 2013 i.e. pre LASPO. Master Rowley’s decision was primarily based on the definition of costs in the CPR post 1 April 2013. The useful paragraphs of Master Rowley’s judgment to consider are as follows:

23 – The key phrase in the new proportionality test in 44.3 (5) states that “costs incurred are proportionate if they bear a reasonable relationship to ….”. The word “costs” as now defined refers to profit costs and disbursements but does not include additional liabilities. Given that the proportionality test in 44.3 (5) only applies to work carried out since that definition of costs has come into being, the obvious interpretation is that it only relates to the base costs of a CFA. It is not clear to me why additional liabilities should necessarily be caught by a test which is based on a definition recast specifically to exclude such liabilities.

24 – In my view, treating the word “costs” as only referring to base costs fits in with the provisions of Part 3 in relation to costs budgeting which were also brought into the CPR in April 2013. For example, in rule 3.15 the court “may manage costs to be incurred by any party in any proceedings” and in doing so will make a costs management order. Such an order will record the extent to which budgets are agreed between the parties and, to the extent they are not agreed, will record the court’s approval after making appropriate revisions. “The court will thereafter control the parties’ budgets in respect of recoverable costs”. Precedent H, which sets out the costs to be managed, expressly excludes any additional liabilities that may still be recoverable between the parties. Consequently, the only interpretation of the recoverable costs which the costs management order is controlling, is that they are the base costs of a CFA as set out in the Precedent H. The court is required to set a budget which is specifically described as allowing reasonable and proportionate costs notwithstanding that it excludes additional liabilities.

25 – In my judgment, being consistent with the costs management arrangements and avoiding bizarre outcomes in bills which involve both proportionality tests, point towards the rules being interpreted as continuing to require the court to assess the base costs and additional liabilities separately.

 26 – Furthermore, the purpose of the Jackson reforms in initiating a sea change could have resulted in Parliament disallowing the recoverability of success fee and ATE premiums from 1 April 2013. But it did not do so and has allowed for the run-off of recoverable success fees and premiums in the main and the continued recoverability of success fees or premiums in particular instances. It seems to me that the fact that additional liabilities are still allowed for by the provisions of CPR rule 48.1 simply means that they remain in existence. It does not mean that they have to be assessed in the aggregate with the base fees using a test which has no recognition of additional liabilities. This is particularly so when aggregation will render those additional liabilities effectively irrecoverable in practice”.

The approach of Master Rowley has recently been followed by Master Brown in the case of Murrells, Estate of v Cambridge University NHS Foundation Trust [2017] EWHC B2 (Costs).

The following are useful extracts from the Judgment:

33(7) – …It seems likely that they will have entered into such arrangements in the reasonable expectation that the additional liabilities would continue to be recoverable as they were pre-LASPO. To apply the new test to additional liabilities in the way contended for would, however, require many litigants to submit to a substantial, if not complete, disallowance of their additional liabilities as against the other party or parties to the litigation, while at the same time the liability to pay an insurer or the lawyers the additional liability would be preserved. If that were right, it would inevitably lead to many litigants, including – it might be observed – victims of mesothelioma, having to give up deserving claims or defences. I agree with Master Rowley: in these circumstances, the defendant’s contention cannot be reconciled with transitional provisions and the clear will of Parliament. The intention must have been to provide, at the very least, an orderly retreat from the old funding scheme.

34 – In the circumstances, I respectfully disagree with the decision of Master Gordon-Saker in BNM as to the application of the new proportionality test to additional liabilities and therefore also as to the need to aggregate base costs with additional liabilities.

The case of BNM is currently on its way to the Court of Appeal, with a hearing date expected for October 2017. Hopefully, this will bring some clarity to the position, but until then expect lots of costs litigation over the point. Hopefully, the Court of Appeal will not simply address the additional liabilities in BNM, but also address the position of pre-LASPO additional liabilities in the context of the King case.

Personally, I think the position adopted by the Senior Costs Judge represents a drafting error in relation to CPR 44.3(7). The intention of LASPO in my view was very clear:

  1. Additional liability incepted pre 1 April 2013 = recoverable inter partes and not subject to the new test of proportionality
  2. Additional liability incepted post 1 April 2013 = not recoverable inter partes
  3. Additional liability (defamation and mesothelioma cases) incepted post 1 April 2013 = recoverable inter partes and not subject to new test of proportionality

Surely, it was never the intention for additional liabilities at 1 and 3 above to be recoverable only for them to be crippled by the new test of proportionality (resulting in a non-recovery)?  Surely, it was never the intention to specifically ‘carve out’ defamation and mesothelioma claims only for the additional liabilities to then be squashed on detailed assessment due to the new test of proportionality? This is particularly relevant in defamation cases where costs can easily dwarf damages.

What all this does show is the problems that can be caused when even minor changes are made to the CPR. I say this in the context of a significant extension of fixed costs on the horizon. There are fixed costs disputes every day at the moment in relation to portal cases and fast track injury cases where the numbers in dispute are very small. Where the numbers in dispute are large i.e. in multi-track fixed costs cases then this will undoubtedly cause satellite litigation, for example arguments about location, what stage the case settled and disbursements.

LJ Jackson thinks that fixed costs will bring certainly, but if Defendants (paying parties) are prepared to exploit a ‘gap in the rules’ as highlighted in the BNM case then expect Costs War 2 post implementation of fixed fees! The Courts are going to be busier than ever, which would be contrary to what LJ Jackson and the governments wants.

LJ Jackson maybe about to score an ‘own goal’ with his planned extension of fixed fees……

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