Yirenki v Ministry of Defence [2018] 11 WLUK 53 – Are hourly rates a good reason to depart from the budget?

When budgeting cases, the Civil Procedures Rules (CPR) under Practice Direction (PD) 3E para.7.3 provides that, when the Court is approving figures, the approval should “only relate to the total figures for budgeted costs of each phase”.

In this claim, upon costs management, the Judge approved both a number of hours for each phase, as well as individual disbursements in the budget. This approach is clearly contrary to the CPR. Parties often reserve the position in relation to their incurred costs, and the hourly rates on the incurred costs, to be dealt with at detailed assessment. Interestingly, Master Davison reserved the issue of the hourly rates for the future costs to also be dealt with at detailed assessment.

Reduction to the hourly rates

Now, we know from the case of Jallow v Ministry of Defence [2018] EWHC B7 (Costs) that, where there has been a reduction to the hourly rates for the incurred work, this is not a good reason to depart from the budgeted costs. Master Davison clearly differs in his opinion, given that he has reserved the position of the hourly rates specifically for the estimated costs.

This decision has since been appealed and has, not surprisingly, been allowed. It was said by Mr Justice Jacobs QC that the approach of Master Davison was contrary to the CPR. Relying on rule CPR 3.15(2)(b) specifically, he provided that the correct approach is clearly that the approved figure is meant to be a final figure, rather than a provisional one which the other side could later attempt to reduce.

Mr Justice Jacobs QC advised that the cost budgeting process is not meant to be a detailed assessment in advance and that the job of the Court is to approve a proportionate figure which can be relied on. The principle of reserving the position as to the hourly rates of the budgeted figures weakens the reliance that can be placed on the budget itself, supporting the case of Jallow v Ministry of Defence  [2018] EWHC B7 (Costs), in that hourly rates are not a good reason to depart from the budgeted figures.

 

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UPDATES – What is a good reason to depart from a budget??

Since Harrison v University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust [2017] EWCA Civ 792 and the ruling that a budget will only be departed from (up or down) if there is good reason to do so, there has existed the issue of what a good reason to depart from a budget upon detailed assessment is. Case law provides authority for what does and does not amount to a good reason, and there has now been time to reflect on this.

The matter of what constitutes a good reason is still subject to much questioning and debate, as there is no distinct definition of what amounts to ‘a good reason’.

The case of RNB v London Borough of Newham [2017] EWHC B15 (Costs), which followed that of Harrison and Deputy Master Campbell, decided that departing from the hourly rates was a good reason to depart from the budget. However, this decision faced criticism, in that the Judges’ role in the budgeting process is to set a total for each phase in the budget and is not to approve or fix the hourly rates.

Therefore, for all intents and purposes, it is irrelevant what the hourly rate is for those budgeted costs, at the time that the budget is set. A Judge may look at it like this: whether a party spends 15 hours at £200.00 per hour, or 20 hours at £150.00, for a total phase of £3,000.00 – the figure is still the same. The total phase is just that: a total amount which the Court believes is appropriate for the work required.

The issue of hourly rates – and a good reason to depart from a budget – was revisited in Bains v Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust. This decision went against RNB, as it ruled that to reduce the hourly rates in line with reductions made to those of the incurred costs would be to second guess what the Judge was thinking at the point of costs management.

Nash v Ministry of Defence [2018] EWHC B4 (Costs), a high court decision following the decision of Bains, ruled that, if the change in hourly rate for incurred costs was a good reason to depart from the budgeted figures, it would bring about a case of double jeopardy. Thus, the only way to combat this, would be to undertake an assessment of the incurred costs at the costs case management hearing.

Jallow v Ministry of Defence [2018] EWHC B7 (Costs) highlighted matters that do not amount to a good reason to depart from the budget, and how the costs management order (CMO) can impact the detailed assessment. Master Rowley commented that the two factors brought in front of him, namely the settlement figure in comparison to the pleaded value, and the reduction in the hourly rates, do not amount to good reasons for departing from the budget.

The Master concluded that a reduction to rates for incurred costs do not amount to a good reason to depart. To amount to a good reason, something specific is needed to have happened. The change in the hourly rates did not amount to something specific and had it done so, it would have set a precedent for parties to argue good reason every time rates have been reduced, as it is in many cases.

A more recent decision of an appeal case, Barts Health NHS Trust v Salmon (unreported) (2019)delves further into the matter of good reason and provides authority on departing down from the budget where the phase has not yet been completed. HHJ Dight concluded that, where the phase has not been completed, and the receiving party has claimed less than the total figure for that phase, then this amounts to a good reason to depart from the budgeted figure, in order that the indemnity principle not be breached. Interestingly, HHJ Dight then went on to say that once good reason has been established, then the paying party need not put forward any further good reason when additionally challenging the level of the total figure claimed and attempting to reduce the phase.

This raises some significant questions about the importance of the assumptions of the budget, following approval of the figures at the costs case management conference. The only page required for filing is the front page of the approved budget. However, should it now be required to submit updated assumptions, to reflect what the figures are based on, should any part argue a good reason to depart in relation to whether a phase has been completed. I suspect, as further good reasons become apparent, the use of the assumptions to show what the phase total was based on will become a much more widely used tool, in proving good reasons to depart, where assumptions widely differ from the actual outcome, and could come to benefit both receiving and paying parties, For example, where there has been more work assumed than has actually been undertaken, regardless of a party is claiming the total of the phase, or where the total of the phase is much lower than budgeted, regardless of whether the number of witnesses was much lower than the number anticipated.

There remains uncertainty as to what does amount to a good reason. With some guidance, I suspect there will be many more cases to come; however, will reluctance be shown by Judges to make those decisions given the gravity of those rulings?

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.

When a simple theory becomes a complex reality; the interplay between costs management and detailed assessment

The Jackson reforms envisaged a world where legal costs would be dealt with through the click of a button. LJ Jackson introduced costs budgeting in a bid to control the level of costs spent, he revamped the concept of proportionality to limit costs for claims where costs incurred considerably exceeded the sums in issue, and he created the electronic bill of costs in a bid to remove the pain staking process of multi day detailed assessment hearings.

However, theories do not always play out well in practice. The plethora of costs case law relating to costs management, proportionality, and bills of costs since the reforms means that it is crucial, now more than ever, that a litigator approaches costs correctly if they are to reap the full reward of their labour.

Regardless of how a case evolves, if a litigator is fortunate to be on the favourable side of an inter partes costs order then, providing the Court orders that costs are to be assessed by way of detailed assessment (and not summary assessment), it is paramount that they present the costs claimed correctly if they are to limit their outlay on detailed assessment costs and maximise their profit recovery.

First and foremost, the litigator should be on the front foot. If the litigation is approaching a mediation or joint settlement meeting, it is wise for the litigator to know exactly where they stand in terms of costs. This is particularly important if there is a sense that the paying party may have an appetite to do a deal on both damages and costs. If the case has been subject to costs management, it is crucial that the costs incurred are carefully considered and calculated to show the extent to which the costs fall (or exceed, with reasons for such) within budget. This is the first question that any competent paying party representative is going to ask. If a precedent Q has been prepared, and the litigator is armed with sufficient information for reasons why any costs may fall outside scope (such that the Court did not provide for a mediation and therefore the costs of such fall outside the budget scope) then any negotiations are more likely to prove fruitful, whilst saving the paying party the additional cost of detailed assessment proceedings. This would not be possible without a phased breakdown of costs.

If, however, the parties are unable to reach an amicable agreement as to costs, it will likely be necessary for a full bill of costs to be prepared in order for detailed assessment proceedings to be commenced. This is where it is crucial that a costs lawyer who fully understands the intricacies of costs management orders and the inter play with the bill of costs should be utilised.

The SCCO’s decision from 29 October 2018 in the matter Vertannes v United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust shows just how crucial this understanding is. This matter had been subject to a costs management order. The Court then proceeded to order that revised budgets should be prepared to reflect a significant change in the litigation. The parties prepared but were unable to agree revised budgets, and the claim settled before the Court considered the revised budgets. The Claimant proceeded to file a bill of costs that failed to comply with CPR 47 PD 47.5.8(8) (“the bill must be divided into separate parts so as to distinguish between the costs claimed for each phase of the last approved or agreed budget”), the Claimant’s argument being that the Court never approved the revised budget. However, the Court found that at no time had the original costs management order been replaced, and that the bill should therefore have been split so as to reflect the position against the original costs management order. The Claimant was, therefore, ordered to re-draw the bill of costs.

The inter play between costs management and detailed assessment can be complex. The Court may make multiple costs management orders during the life of a claim, where by a previous order is “topped up”, which impacts the way in which a bill is drawn, or the Court may elect to only costs management certain phases of the case, which, again, has an impact on the bill. It is, therefore, crucial that the costs lawyer is aware of all the elements of the case that will impact the drafting of the bill so as to ensure compliance with CPR 47 and the accompanying practice direction, together with maximising recovery.

Joanne Chase is a Senior Associate Costs Lawyer in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors.

You can contact her at joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

THIRD PARTY FUNDING – A VIABLE OPTION FOR 21st CENTURY LITIGATION (Part 1)

This series of blog articles will address the increasing viability of third party funding as an alternative to traditional litigation funding methods. It will look at how the law has developed historically and how the Court now approaches third party funding and the potential liability of third party funders.

The first part of this series will explore how the Court’s attitude to third party funding has changed significantly from the 19th through to the 21st Century.

Champerty and Maintenance

The historic position taken by the Court in respect of third party funding was that it was illegal and tortious. Two offences had developed through the common law: champerty and maintenance.

Champerty referred to when a person who did not have a legal interest in the matter provided financial assistance to litigation in order to receive a share of the profits.

Maintenance was the procurement of direct or indirect financial assistance from another in order to carry on, or defend, proceedings without lawful justification (British Cash & Parcel Conveyors v Lamson Store Service Co [1908]).

Therefore, the default position was that such agreements, which would be considered third party funding arrangements today, would be considered illegal, tortious and unenforceable. However, even at the turn of the 20th Century, the courts were willing to find such arrangements enforceable as a matter of public policy. For instance, in insolvency proceedings, which by their very nature meant that one party would need financial assistance in order to carry on or defend proceedings (Seear v Lawson (1880)), the Court found that a third party funding agreement was enforceable.

Abolition

The default position changed with the enactment of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (CLA 1967). S.13 CLA 1967 abolished the offences and torts of champerty and maintenance. S.14 CLA 1967 changed the approach of the test, which now started from the presumption that such agreements were enforceable, unless there was a valid reason as a matter of public policy.

Comment

Statutory intervention was important to provide additional certainty and security to parties wishing to enter into third party funding arrangements. However, such an approach cannot be taken for granted outside of the jurisdiction of England and Wales.

Recently, the Supreme Court in Ireland, in the matter of Persona Digital Telephony Ltd v The Minister for Public Enterprise (2017), found a third party funding agreement to be unlawful. This is because the offences of Champerty and Maintenance have not been abolished by statute In Ireland. The Court felt that it is consequentially bound to find such agreements unlawful and that any change of approach was within the remit of the Legislator, not the Judiciary.

In the next part of the series…

The next blog will take a look at how the Court has begun to develop the law in respect of third party funding, with a look at the decision in Factortame Ltd v Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions No.8 [2002].

This blog was prepared by Kris Kilsby who is an Associate Costs Lawyer at Clarion and part of the Costs Litigation Funding Team.  Kris can be contacted at kris.kilsby@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 227 3628.

The new statement of costs goes live on 1 April 2019

I have further updates regarding the new statement of costs following on from our January newsletter. The pilot scheme will operate from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2021 and will apply to all claims in which costs are to be summarily assessed, whenever they were commenced. There will be two statements of costs which may be used whilst the scheme is in force; the N260A when the costs have been incurred up to an interim application and the N260B when the costs have been incurred up to trial. The N260 will be available in paper/pdf form and in electronic form. Parties are able to use the paper/pdf form only, however if they use the electronic spreadsheet form this must be filed and served in paper form and electronic means. The format has changed and the document schedule now requires the time entries to be dated. 

In cases which have been subject to a costs management order, any party filing the form N260B must also file and serve the precedent Q (which is a summary that details any overspend/underspend for each phase of the budget). Now that the court can identify overspends in the budget, will this additional layer of information result in more costs being summarily assessed and less detailed assessments? Will this assist with applications for payments on account? Will we see the N260B being used at trials that are listed for more than one day, to demonstrate that there hasn’t been any overspend in the budget and resultantly the budgeted costs being allowed in full? Possibly, but only if the incurred costs are identified separately to the estimated costs, please see my earlier blog for a more detailed analysis in that regard.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of Costs Management in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3389, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

 

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.