Mis-Certification of a Bill of Costs – Be careful!

Back in May, I posted a Vlog about the SRA’s decision following the Court of Appeal’s Judgment in Gempride v Bamrah [2018] EWCA Civ 1367. You can view that Vlog here.

I was therefore very interested to read the recent decision of Master James in the case of Farmer v The Chief Constable of Lancashire [2019] EWHC B18 (Costs) and to share it with you. Here are the key points:

  1. Mr Farmer (“the Receiving Party”) had the benefit of a costs order against the Defendant (“the Paying Party”).
  2. A Bill of Costs was prepared, and detailed assessment proceedings were commenced. The original Bill of Costs totalled £174,565.79.
  3. There were issues over the validity of Conditional Fee Agreements, recoverability of success fees and incorrect hourly rates which led to the service of an amended bill in the sum of £116,192.50.  That total was also incorrect, and the Court found that the bill should have been drawn in the region of £66,000 to £69,000.
  4. The Bill of Costs had been certified as accurate and true. Certain points/items were also maintained through Replies and a Witness Statement.
  5. Had the Bill of Costs been prepared correctly, then the matter would have been dealt with under the Provisional Assessment scheme. This would have saved substantial time and cost for each party and the Court.
  6. There were also costs included in the Bill of Costs which were not recoverable inter-partes.
  7. The Paying party applied to strike out the remainder of the Bill of Costs, pursuant to CPR 44.11.
  8. The Court struck out the remainder of the Bill of Costs; the Receiving Party was entitled to nothing.
  9. The Receiving Party was ordered to pay the costs of the detailed assessment and re-pay the payments on account received.

In Gempride the penalty reduction was 50%. In this case the penalty reduction was a full strike out of the remainder of the costs (circa. £66,000.00 – £69,000.00).

It is fundamentally important to ensure a Bill of Costs has been prepared correctly before you certify it. Mis-certification of a Bill of Costs is a serious issue.

Mistakes happen and the Court will look more favourably on innocent mistakes which are rectified quickly. In this case, the Receiving Party pursued the matter to detailed assessment and maintained retainers that were clearly not enforceable.  

In my Vlog in May, I provided 5 tips to help ensure that you avoid any mis-certification issues. Please view the Vlog to help you check a Bill of Costs (or a costs budget or statement of costs for summary assessment) correctly and to stay clear of any mis-certification arguments and costs penalties. You might want to use my 5 tips to create an internal check-list.

This blog was written by Andrew McAulay. Andrew 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

The Importance of Correct Certification of Court Documents

In Gempride -v- Bambrah [2018] EWCA Civ 1367 the Court found that a solicitor had mis-certified a bill of costs. As a result of that finding, the firm was required to self-report to the SRA.

The SRA has now published its findings from that investigation. Here, Andrew McAulay looks at 5 Key Points for certification of a bill.

Andrew McAulay is a Costs Lawyer, a Partner at Clarion, and head of the Costs and Litigation Funding Department.

Third Party Funders – Exposure to Legal Costs

The Court of Appeal has recently handed down its Judgment in the case of Chapelgate Credit Opportunity Master Fund Limited -v- Money and Others [2019], which was an eagerly awaited decision for litigation funders. The outcome of the case is as follows:

The Arkin Cap should be considered when determining costs, but it is not binding on the Courts.

Paragraph 38:

“……..I do not consider that the Arkin approach represents a binding rule. Judges, as it seems to me, retain a discretion and, depending on the facts, may consider it appropriate to take into account matters other than the extent of the funder’s funding and not to limit the funder’s liability to the amount of that funding”

For those unfamiliar with litigation funding and the Arkin Cap, this arises out of the Court of Appeal decision in Arkin -v- Borchard Lines Limited 2005. In that case, a company which had provided third party funding for an unsuccessful claim was ordered to pay the costs of the winning party, but only to the extent of the funding provided. The Arkin Cap has been a principle which has been regularly applied by the Courts since. The decision in Chapelgate will cause uncertainty for litigation funders, in a world which has significantly evolved since 2005.

The Judgment increases the requirement for litigation funders to properly engage costs lawyers. Funders should be engaging costs lawyers to scrutinise a law firm’s legal budget when they are applying for funding. Costs lawyers should also be retained to monitor costs versus budget (including the opponent’s costs) and to advise on costs management orders.

Costs management orders provide more certainty on detailed assessment (unless the order for costs is made on the indemnity basis). Such measures will ensure that the funder has the maximum control possible on both the costs of the firm they are funding and the opponent’s legal costs; the latter being important in the event that an adverse order for costs is made.


This blog was written 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 mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com

Interesting comments from the MXX v United Lincolnshire NHS Trust case

I posted a blog at the end of June about the case of MXX v United Lincolnshire NHS Trust (2018) (please follow this link to read the blog https://clarionlegalcosts.com/2019/06/25/ensure-consistency-between-your-costs-budget-and-bill-of-costs/).

In the Judgment of Master Rowley, there are some interesting points which I felt were appropriate to cite and share through this separate blog. Those points are as follows:

Master Rowley found that the inflated incurred costs amounted to improper conduct and said the following at paragraphs 57 and 58:

57.      The need to comply with the indemnity principle must be on page 1 of any introduction to the law of costs. It is fundamental throughout the issues regarding what sums can be claimed from one party by another. It is, or should be, engrained in everyone dealing with solicitor’s costs. Whether it is a detailed bill of costs that is being produced, a summary assessment schedule or even simply a breakdown in a letter being provided to the opponent, it is imperative that the costs set out as being payable by the opponent do not exceed the sums payable by the client to their solicitor. The case of Harold v Smith (1850) 5 H. & N. 381 is more than 150 years old but it remains correct that the sum claimed should not be a punishment to an opponent nor a bonus to the client (or solicitor) which is the effect of claiming more costs from the opponent than are payable by the client.

  1. I do not accept that the statement of truth for Precedent H is intended to be a composite statement or one akin to signing an estimate. If that was so, in my Judgement, the Statement would simply say that the document was a fair and accurate estimate of the costs which it would be reasonable and proportionate for the client to incur in litigation. But that is not what it says. It specifically refers to incurred and estimated costs separately and it seems to me that a solicitor signing a Statement of Truth has to consider whether the incurred costs figure is fair and accurate separately from whether the figures for estimated costs are fair and accurate. There is absolutely no reason why the incurred costs figure should not be accurate. There are many reasons to understand that the estimated costs figure is no more than educated guesswork. The change in the hourly rates for future work identified by Irwin Mitchell is one of those reasons.

    The importance of the indemnity principle (which I have blogged on previously and you can find here https://clarionlegalcosts.com/2019/02/12/the-indemnity-principle-what-is-it-is-it-important/) is clearly set out above at paragraph 57 of the Judgment.

    At paragraph 58, it is clear that the signature of a Precedent H should not be taken lightly, it is a statement of truth and is not akin to signing an estimate, the signature on the Precedent H is not intended to be a composite statement. Paragraph 58 also indicates that the courts do not expect the incurred costs to be calculated incorrectly because of the inclusion of any incorrect hourly rate/s. However, the courts would be open to the use of composite rates for estimated costs given that hourly rates could clearly change (both upwards and downwards) over time. If you consider this applies to any budget that you are preparing, then make this clear in the assumptions to your budget, this will provide you with protection on detailed assessment and ensure transparency with the court and your opponent.

In the Judgment, Master Rowley did not find that the significant difference between the costs claimed in the bill and those in the costs budget (144-147 hours) amounted to improper conduct. Master Rowley said the following:

61.      Similarly, I do not think that the claimant’s approach to the amount of hours claimed in the budget and subsequently in the bill founds any significant criticism. My understanding of the limit of 1% of the total budget for the preparation of the precedent H was originally allowed for on the basis that clients would have been billed for the incurred costs by that point and so relatively little work would be needed to consider the incurred costs. If that is correct, it takes no account of matters dealt with under contingency arrangements such as a CFA when no bill will have been rendered by the time the Precedent H is prepared.

  1. It seems to me to be unrealistic to expect a party to vet the time recorded on a line by line basis in the manner suggested by the Defendant here. The bill of costs has taken nearly 100 hours to prepare and that involves a considerable greater sum than would be allowed by 1% of the budget. Whilst I accept Mr Bacon’s comment that the extent of the remuneration is not the touchstone for the effort that should be involved, it does seem to me to be a pointer as to the expectation of the time to be spent in preparing a budget. Most of the time will be spent in the estimation of future costs and much less will be spent in relation to incurred costs. Including items which are unlikely to be recoverable between the parties’ assessment runs a risk of the budgeting judge concluding that those costs are high and commenting about this in the CMO.

  2. I do not think that it can be said to be unreasonable for a solicitor to include in the budget, the time that the various fee earners have recorded on their system as being sums which the client is potentially liable to pay.

  3. Similarly, having considered that time to be vulnerable to challenge on a between the parties’ assessment, it can only be reasonable for the drafter of the bill of costs to exclude such time. Where, as here, the time is extensive, the incurred costs actually claimed between the parties will be significantly reduced. But that does not necessarily mean that something improper has occurred when the budget was prepared, in my view.

Personally, whilst I cannot say that the discrepancy in time was improper, I struggle to accept the Master’s decision that there can be such a large discrepancy on detailed assessment (because the bill drafter excludes time when drafting the bill of costs). It is important that incurred costs are broadly correct in terms of time incurred and absolutely correct in terms of hourly rates. If not, it creates an incorrect starting point on detailed assessment and questions the signature of the costs budget. Furthermore, 1% can be a generous amount when preparing a high value costs budget (A £10 million budget would potentially allow a charge of £100,000 to prepare the costs budget).

The decision of the Master also troubles me for the following reasons:

  1. It is possible to prepare a budget as a bill of costs i.e. prepare a bill of costs which can be converted into a costs budget for the CCMC. Whilst this incurs greater cost, it effectively means that the costs are front-loaded so that the costs for drafting the bill at the conclusion of the matter are much lower.
  2. Lawyers have historically struggled with recording their time (and continue to struggle) in a way that reduces the time required to draft a bill of costs, not to mention time recording by using the phase, task and activity codes. It therefore surprises me that the Master seemed to accept an approach of calculating incurred costs by simply ‘lifting’ time from a time recording ledger. To my mind, time needs to be vetted correctly and incurred costs should not change significantly between those stated in the costs budget and those stated in the bill of costs.
  3. Where a costs management order has been made and the matter proceeds to a JSM or mediation, it can be possible for the parties to agree costs at the JSM or mediation based on the costs management order (Claimant providing some very basic updated figures). If the budget was not based on the accuracy expected within a bill of costs, then any breach of the indemnity principle would not be identified and there is a real risk that costs irrecoverable inter partes would potentially be recovered from the paying party.
  4. Furthermore, the Master’s approach is in real contradiction to the requirements of a document that contains a statement of truth, of which the budget is one of those documents.

    It is therefore imperative that the incurred costs figure is not only calculated correctly in terms of the hourly rate but is calculated correctly (with no significant errors) in relation to inter partes incurred costs. When litigating, each party should be able to proceed on the basis that the incurred costs included in the budget are correct and can be relied upon. Whilst the Claimant substantially reduced the incurred costs in the MXX case (which was to the benefit of the Defendant), it does raise a real question over the costs management process if a party can change their incurred costs figure, which in this instance was by nearly 150 hours.

The aim of this blog was to share some of the wider points which arise from the Judgment of Master Rowley. I would be interested to hear any other people’s views and opinions which can be shared through this blog.

Please note that the case was the subject of an Appeal and I will blog separately (and shortly) in relation to the outcome of the Appeal. The outcome does not impact the points raised in this blog.

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

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.

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.