Part 36 Pointers

Matthew Rose gives an overview of key points for Part 36. Lockdown tip: remember Part 36 follows the rules of service, so make sure you get agreement to serve offers by email.

Matthew Rose is a Solicitor on the Costs team at Clarion Solicitors. Contact him at matthew.rose@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 222 3248.

KKL Executor & Trustee Company Ltd v Harrison (2020) – Is it cynical for a professional Deputy to expect to be paid?

The short answer is no. The above case concerned an elderly woman (OT, the Protected Party) in Leeds who lacks capacity to deal with her property and financial affairs. KKL is a trust corporation working closely with (both in terms of being the subsidiary of and working from the same office with) a charity called JNF Charitable Trust (“JNF UK”). Ms Harrison made an application to be appointed as property and affairs Deputy for the Protected Party and KKL lodged a competing application, on the basis that they were well known to the Protected Party and they felt that they were best placed to act as Deputy.

For the purposes of the proceedings, Ms Harrison acted as Respondent to KKL’s application to be appointed as Deputy. Ms Harrison’s objection to KKL’s application was based on three key issues. The first was KKL’s lack of independence from JNF UK and the potential for a conflict of interest to arise between the Protected Party’s interests and the interests of JNF UK as the main and residuary beneficiary of the Protected Party’s latest will.  The second was KKL’s lack of experience as a property and affairs Deputy and the third was KKL’s geographical distance from the Protected Party, and their apparent conflict with others with whom the Deputy would need to work in the Protected Party’s best interests pursuant to section 4(7) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Within KKL’s arguments against Ms Harrison being appointed as Deputy, they raised the issue of costs. They said that the standard wording within the application for costs to be assessed on the standard basis was “a cosy arrangement regarding costs that is buried in the small print of her application”.  Judge Geddes responded to say that this was “(literally) factually wrong” and that the application “reflects standard wording within the templates produced by the Court of Protection”.

KKL also raised questions as to the fact that social services consulted a lawyer from the Lawdesk Panel of Private Client Lawyers about their concerns over the Protected Party’s mental capacity and her ability to manage her own finances. Judge Geddes responded to say the there is a risk to Clarion Solicitors of acting in such cases in that “if their application were rejected they might be left to bear their own costs of bringing the application which they do so purportedly in the Protected Party’s interests.” Judge Geddes quashed any notion that is was inappropriate and continued to say, “Of course, in this limited sense they have an interest in either the success of the application or at least in not being criticised for bringing the application to the point of disapplication of the general rule about costs contained in rule 19.2 of the Court of Protection Rules 2017 namely that “Where the proceedings concern P’s property and affairs the general rule is that the costs of the proceedings… shall be paid by P or charged to P’s estate”.

Further in respect of costs, Judge Geddes responded to KKL’s arguments, stating “It will be a matter for submissions on costs whether or not the conduct of either party has been unreasonable or should be marked with the court’s disapproval by disapplying the usual rule.  So long as the proposed deputy is acting in good faith, however, I would not consider their expectation of having their costs paid in accordance with the usual rule out of P’s estate could be considered “cynical”. It remains that the starting point for professionals is to expect to have their costs assessed and paid from the estate.”

Judge Geddes acknowledged that it would be cheaper to appoint KKL rather than Ms Harrison, but overall, found it to be in the Protected Party’s best interests for Lynsey Harrison to be appointed as Deputy. It was ordered that costs incurred by Clarion Solicitors could be assessed and paid from the estate.

It is clear from this case that professional Deputies are not expected to be limited to fixed costs and the starting point is that they should be paid, subject to detailed assessment, for their hard work in managing property and affairs.

If you have any questions, please contact Stephanie Kaye at Stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com or call 0113 3363402.

Lockdown Lowdown – Russell Caller

This blog forms part of a series of weekly interviews with several professionals during lockdown. It aims to inform Deputies and their teams about how each organisation within the field of Court of Protection has adapted to Covid-19 and what they should be aware of. Our fourth participant for Lockdown Lowdown is Russell Caller who is a Director of the Professional Deputies Forum (the PDF), and a professional deputy himself at Gillhams Solicitors in London.

It’s been over a year now since the PDF’s formation. What has happened in that year for the PDF?

A lot! We launched last March (2019) in Leeds at the offices of Clarion and we are very grateful to Clarion for sponsoring that event which “got us off the ground”. In the last year, we have gained the ear of the Office of the Public Guardian, the Ministry of Justice, the Senior Courts Costs Office, the Official Solicitor and the Court of Protection. As we speak, we are about to go to court in the SCCO to hopefully achieve some sort of increase in rates, in addition to pushing a review of the Guidance Rates at the end of the year. We are also taking a leading role in the discussion on the recent decision of ACC & Others.

How many members does the PDF now have?

We currently represent over 5,300 solicitor professional deputy appointments. There are only 9000 in total, so the PDF represents the majority of such appointments.

What are the benefits of membership?

There are 6 key benefits:

  1. Representation for Deputies to give them a voice. That is our unique selling point, as this is the first time ever that Professional Deputies are represented.
  2. There are inequities in the COP system and there are some structural issues that need reviewing in the current regulatory scheme. In our view, not all the stakeholders are “singing off the same hymn sheet” and it is important that this is addressed. The stakeholders (OPG, SCCO, MOJ, etc.) have developed over time but there needs to be consistency between what each stakeholder is asking for from professional deputies, otherwise the system doesn’t work. We are trying to set up a meeting with all stakeholders to discuss the areas which need looking at, in the hope that we can address this collectively and have a more joined up approach.
  3. We are fighting for sustainability of the whole professional deputyship system. We are “tottering on the edge” as we cannot afford to pay paralegals their true value.  Some Law firms are saying it is uneconomic to have COP departments and that means a reduction in the service being offered. If the professional deputyship service is to continue in England and Wales, we need to tackle these fundamental issues and the PDF is pushing hard for that.
  4. We are putting the solicitor professional deputy at the heart of the discussion for the first time ever. We are in discussion with all the main stakeholders.
  5. We have a resource section on our website for all members.
  6. We listen to our members and act on their views!

How can the PDF help professional Deputies and why is it key to be involved?

It is essential to be involved for all the reasons set out in the answer to the previous question. We are and will be taken seriously by the COP stakeholders and that is precisely what is happening. The PDF is a catalyst for change. We are very focused – our message is very clear- we are here to represent and protect the Solicitor professional deputy. Firstly, we need to make the system sustainable. Simply put, the greater the membership of the PDF, the more the stakeholders engage with us- they have little option to but to engage and listen to us and respond appropriately.

Do you have any concerns for professional Deputies caused by COVID-19?

Very much so! Deputies cannot gain access to Care Homes to visit the vulnerable, they have difficulty in reaching social services, doctors and other professionals as easily and cannot get things done quickly enough! My other worry is that law firms have had to furlough members of staff too, so the number of support staff has been hit, who deputy teams rely heavily on.

What are the PDF’s objectives for 2020/21?

We have several objectives which tie nicely into the benefits of being a member (see above). We want to improve the relationship between the OPG and solicitor professional deputies and challenge some of the ills of the current regulatory scheme. For example, review the OPG professional standards and how these can be achieved by deputies, without being  financially penalised for meeting the criteria. We also want to open a dialogue with the COP to improve how it is run, including a dialogue with court staff and with the judges. Where appropriate, we want to challenge MOJ policy in the deputyship world to improve and provide clarity for all deputies in the system.

Following the case of ACC & Others earlier this year, we want to make further representation on behalf of deputies to address the many unintended consequences of this case. This includes engaging with other organisations within the COP world to discuss the correct approach to the court.

We also want to achieve a pay increase for solicitor professional deputies, which will provide financial sustainability and a clear career path for younger and junior professionals practicing in this area.

We are always looking for feedback from our members and others who work in the COP profession. We are a young organisation and we know that we will make mistakes, so if anyone has some good feedback on what we do well and what we don’t do so well, we would really like to hear that so we can continue to develop.

What do you think the future holds for professional Deputies?

It is very difficult to say. Unless and until being a solicitor professional deputy becomes financially sustainable, the future is not good. We need to tackle this head on, which is what we are doing at this very minute! As I mentioned previously, we have a case being heard in the SCCO  this coming week in respect of rates of pay for solicitor professional deputies, which we hope will provide some certainty in this area, then we can start to address the inequities in the system.

How has the PDF adapted to lockdown?

One of the benefits of the PDF is that we have just 4 directors and we have a small working group, so decisions can be made easily which allows us to be “fleet of foot”. We very quickly launched our very popular “Fireside Chats” on Zoom and all the major stakeholders have come to be interviewed, which has been great! The use of Zoom and Teams has been a real advantage for the PDF, so we’re not complaining- we are firing on all cylinders!

How have you personally been keeping busy in lockdown?

I am becoming an expert in managing meetings and presentations through Zoom and Teams. I am learning new skills every day. I am Chair of a Shepherds Bush Housing Group and I now lead board meetings of up to 20 people, which isn’t easy, but I love to try new things and so I am sort of enjoying myself! I miss the fun and banter of physically being in an office, but this period has given me a lot of time to think about life and what I want from it.

What are you most looking forward to after lockdown?

I have a passion for food! I love to eat out whenever I can and I think the best meal of the day is breakfast. Until the lockdown, the working group of the PDF used to meet in Central London at 8am for a breakfast meeting ( all paid for our of personal funds, I hasten to add!). It was great fun and I am really looking forward to getting back to those breakfast meetings! I have my first Grandchild due in September too, so I am especially looking forward to that.

Clarion would like to thank Russell for taking part in Lockdown Lowdown and would like to thank the PDF for their tireless efforts in trying to improve this area of practice. Coming up in the series, we will be hearing from Ria Baxendale from the OPG. If you would like to suggest another interviewee for Lockdown Lowdown, please contact Stephanie Kaye at stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com or call 0113 336 3402.

Open Meeting of the Civil Procedure Rules Committee – Costs Update

The Civil Procedure Rules Committee held their annual open meeting on 15th May 2020. Given the present circumstances, the meeting was successfully held via Skype.

The previous two meetings covered several costs issues including the establishment of a sub-committee to make recommendations in respect of guideline hourly rates which have not been updated in the last 10 years. The committee is due to make recommendations by the end of this year with an update to the rates to take place thereafter.

The April minutes, which have just been released, confirm a that a sub-committee has also been established to consider costs rates other than guideline hourly rates.

The following costs matters were discussed at the open meeting in May, minutes of which will likely be published in June:

Vulnerable Parties – The sub-committee sought guidance on four points; an amendment to the over-riding objective to cover vulnerable parties, an accompanying PD, an addition to CPR44.3(5) regarding proportionality to specifically include vulnerable parties, and whether to approach the MOJ in respect of amending fixed, scale and capped costs for cases involving vulnerable parties. The committee broadly agreed with the proposals with some caution regarding the overriding objective.

CPR 45.18 – The committee agreed that the deletion of the upper limit of £25,000.00 from tables 6 and 6A would be recommended.

Qader v Esure– Issues had been raised following the amendments to CPR 45 Section IIIA concerning the effect on parties’ settlement tactics in matters likely to be  allocated to the multitrack due to the difference in the level of costs recoverable pre and post allocation. The committee discussed the matter and concluded that no action should be taken.    

QOCS  / Ho v Adelekun – The issue of off-setting Defendant’s costs against Claimant’s costs where damages are insufficient has been referred to the costs sub-committee. The committee will keep a watching brief on the appeal in Ho and consider revision to CPR 44.14 thereafter.

Part 36 acceptance in pre-action matters – Where a Part 36 offer is accepted pre-action there is no deemed costs order (CPR  44.9(2)).  The costs sub-committee will consider whether there is a need to amend CPR 46.14 regarding costs only proceedings to be explicit in respect of Part 36 acceptance on pre-action matters.

Helen Spalding is an Associate in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion. You can contact her at helen.spalding@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 288 5639.

Filing a Costs Budget Late: High Court Decisions in 2020

Back in January of this year Lionel Persey QC, sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court, took a fairly lenient approach towards the defaulting party in the case of Manchester Shipping Ltd v Balfour Shipping Limited & Anor [2020] EWHC 164 (Comm) when he granted relief from sanctions to Defendants who filed a costs budget 13 days late.

The Judge took the stance that “The breach, although serious in terms of lateness, did not prevent the litigation from being conducted efficiently or at proportionate cost. No inconvenience was caused to the court or to other court users”. This ruling seemed to mark a shift from the strict application of CPR 3.14 which provides that: unless the court otherwise orders, any party which fails to file a budget despite being required to do so will be treated as having filed a budget comprising only the applicable court fees.

More recently however, His Honour Judge Simon Barker QC in Heathfield International LLC v (1) Axiom Stone (London) Ltd & (2) Medecall Limited [2020] EWHC 1075 (Ch) determined that the defaulting party, in this case the second Defendant, was to be treated as having filed a budget comprising only the applicable court fees.

The surrounding circumstances were that the defaulting party failed to file a Budget 21 days before the originally listed CCMC. This first CCMC was vacated 4 days before it was due to take place as a result of the parties making applications in respect of security for costs. The second Defendant attempted to excuse the fact it had not filed a budget on the basis that the parties had agreed for the CCMC to be relisted. The timing of this agreement was ambiguous and could not be substantiated. The second Defendant then failed to file and serve its budget 21 days before the relisted CCMC and did so late by at least 5 days. Furthermore, they did not file and serve a Precedent R or engage in budget discussions. Relief from sanctions was subsequently applied for 2 days before the re-listed CCMC.

Counsel for the second Defendant attempted to use Manchester Shipping in support but it was found to be incomparable on the facts.

HHJ Barker QC commented on the fact that the first Defendant’s response to the Claimant’s claim had been the cause of the second Defendant on a secondary alternative basis “but that does not entitle D2 to take a more relaxed or casual approach to participation as a party in this litigation”.

The sums of money in issue, at approximately £260k plus £100k for interest and statutory penalty, and the type of litigation as a claim for unpaid invoices were also referred to in the context that “costs may easily become disproportionate” thus “costs control and costs budgeting are all the more important”.

Reference was also made to the court’s discretion under CPR 3.14 being “entirely open”.

A form of hybrid relief was contemplated but ultimately it was decided that the defaulting party should be treated as having filed a budget comprising of court fees only.

Anna Lockyer is an Associate in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at anna.lockyer@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 288 5619, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622

What are classed as ‘assets’ in COP cases?

Practice Direction 19B stipulates that fixed costs must be used in the event the Protected Party (P) does not have over £16,000 of assets on the anniversary date. The pertinent issue faced by many Deputies is what is included in the classification of ‘assets’.

When considering whether the P’s matter is what is widely known as a ‘hardship case’, you must consider whether P initially has cash or other liquid assets which total £16,000. If not, does P own a property? If P owns a property in which he/she or a dependent resides, this will not be counted towards the total asset value for this purpose. However, if it is a vacant or rental property, the value of the property can be included in calculating the total assets.

In the event that there is ligation ongoing in which the liability has been admitted and the funds are anticipated, or there is an ongoing property sale, income or inheritance in which funds will be received from, these may be classed as pending assets and you may not be limited to the fixed cost. We recommend checking the particular scenario with the Office of the Public Guardian beforehand.

Section 9 states “where the net assets of P are below £16,000, the professional deputy for property and affairs may take an annual management fee not exceeding 4.5% of P’s net assets on the anniversary of the court order appointing the professional as deputy.” You are not entitled to take interim payments whereby the assets fall below £16,000.

You must charge in line with the client asset amount on the anniversary date of the court order. If the assets are above £16,000 on the anniversary date then the 4.5% rule does not apply.

If the assets are above £16,000, deputies should know that Section 6 of PD19B states that “where professional deputies elect for detailed assessment of annual management charges, they may take  payments on account for the first three quarters of the year, which are proportionate and reasonable taking into account the size of the estate and the functions they have performed. Interim quarterly bills must not exceed 25% of the estimated annual management charges – that is up to 75% for the whole year. Interim bills on account must not be submitted to the Senior Courts Costs Office. At the end of the annual management year, the deputy must submit their annual bill to the Senior Courts Costs Office for detailed assessment and adjust the final total due to reflect payments on account already received.”

To bring this into context for when your bill of costs is being prepared, the SCCO are interested in the value of the assets of the P to enable accurate consideration for the proportionality of the bill. If your client owns any properties, vehicles, rental properties or businesses providing an income then it is appropriate for this to be highlighted within the narrative of your bill of costs. In addition, the details of the net assets value including the value of any shares and general investments held should be provided. It has been evidenced in the assessed bills returned from the SCCO that this information assists in the Cost Officer providing a just and reasonable assessment.

If you are unsure of the position in relation to P’s net assets and what should or should not be included, we recommend contacting the OPG for guidance.

However, you should have any further queries, or simply wish to discuss any costs queries you may have, please don’t hesitate to contact bridie.sanderson@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.

Lockdown Lowdown – Francesca Gardner

This blog forms part of a series of weekly interviews with several professionals during lockdown. It aims to inform Deputies and their teams about how each organisation within the field of Court of Protection has adapted to Covid-19 and what they should be aware of. Our third participant for Lockdown Lowdown is Francesca Gardner from Kings Chambers, who has chosen a hectic time to return from maternity leave!

How has the Court of Protection adapted to lockdown?

The COP has adapted extremely well, and at speed to the pandemic. The Vice President has been instrumental in ensuring that the court continues to function. Hayden J has released a number of helpful guidance documents. The reality is that there will be some cases that will be delayed but there is a clear and concerted effort from the court’s to ensure that urgent cases are being properly determined. For example, within days of the lockdown measures being announced by the government, the COP heard a Serious Medical Treatment case (over a number of days) via Zoom.

I know of and am involved in many cases that are being and are scheduled to be heard over the coming weeks.

What impact do you think this will have on professional Deputies?

I am optimistic that there will not be a significant impact upon deputies, save for the challenges in maintaining contact with P and any delays that may be faced as regards court proceedings. HMCTS has issued its ‘family business priorities’ for April 2020 setting out what work must be done, what work will be done and what work HMCTS will do its best to do. Property and Affairs work falls under the work that court ‘will do it’s best to do’, whilst this may be frustrating to deputies I am aware of several P&A cases being heard both in the regions and in London so whilst there may be delays I would hope that deputies will still have proper access to the court’s should they need it on behalf of P.

Have you learnt anything so far from the pandemic?

The importance of slowing down, as lawyers we work at 100mph and I hope that lockdown has forced us to re-evaluate a little and find a better balance going forward. I am thinking ‘pigs might fly’ as I write this.

Have there been any reoccurring issues that Deputies should be aware of?

The main issue in my view and that, which I am aware of, is contact with P and ensuring that communication between P and the deputy continues. It is important that deputies think creatively during the pandemic to ensure that they (and others) can maintain contact with P. For example and where possible the purchase of an iPad or a request to the staff at the care home and/or support staff to support P to use Skype may be of real benefit. In BP v Surrey County Council 2020 EWCOP 17, the Vice President of the Court of Protection, Hayden J, reiterated the importance of P maintaining contact with others and how this should be approached based on the specific needs of the person. For example, telephone contact would not be appropriate where the person is deaf, but Skype maybe and they should be supported to use that facility.

Do you think there will be any reoccurring issues that Protected Party’s face as a result of this?

I would like to think not but I think delay will be inevitable in some cases, particularly cases that are none urgent in nature.

What do you think Deputies should be thinking about?

Whilst it may be a very difficult time, deputies must remember that their roles and responsibilities remain the same throughout the pandemic, that includes in circumstances where the deputy may be self-isolating in line with the government guidelines. The Office of Public Guardian has provided some guidance for deputies during the pandemic, within the guidance it states:  ‘If you are self- isolating or shielding, you must continue to make decisions for P. You cannot ask anyone else to make those decisions for you.’ However, attorneys and deputies can make a decision and ask someone else to carry it out. The guidance reminds deputies that they do not have to step down in their role simply because they are unable to visit the person.

How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?

My little boy keeps me very busy, but returning to work has also kept me busy. I try to exercise alone as regularly as I can. Running has always been my ‘go to’ for exercise and its great for clearing your head, particularly with all that is going on at the moment.

What are you most looking forward to after lockdown?

Spending time with family and my little boy, it has been hard that no one has been able to see him so I am very much looking forward to that!

Clarion would like to thank Francesca for taking part in Lockdown Lowdown and for her helpful insight. Coming up in the series, we will be hearing from Ria Baxendale from the OPG. If you would like to suggest another interviewee for Lockdown Lowdown, please contact Stephanie Kaye at stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com or call 0113 336 3402.

Lockdown Lowdown- Master Haworth

This blog forms part of a series of weekly interviews with several professionals during lockdown. It aims to inform Deputies and their teams about how each organisation within the field of Court of Protection has adapted to Covid-19. Our second participant for Lockdown Lowdown is Master Peter Haworth from the Senior Courts Costs Office.

  • How has the SCCO adapted to lockdown?

I originally thought we wouldn’t cope very well at all, and thought we would lock up shop at the SCCO, but that hasn’t happened. It’s not just skeleton staff, but staff working from home and a team in the office on a very detailed rota. We have a dedicated COP team of at least 5 people in today and 6 people in tomorrow, so we are finding ways to continue whilst respecting social distancing. We have managed to obtain laptops which have been given to Costs Officers so, in addition to the team in the office, Costs Officers are dealing with work at home. We have 8 Costs Officers and all 8 of them are working, be it remotely or from the office and the people in the high risk category are having work delivered to them as opposed to collecting it themselves. The team really have worked hard to adapt and I’m tremendously proud of them. The judiciary are also getting on surprisingly well in lockdown. We’ve had a number of Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls which have been very successful, and it seems that the judiciary has moved on 50 years in 2 weeks. I don’t think we will ever go back to ‘normal’ and I suspect that, going forward, we will continue to work in this way wherever it is appropriate to do so. The Senior Costs Judge doesn’t want things to grind to a halt so, wherever possible, we are dealing with things via Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. I’ve had 2 full-day hearings for two substantial costs matters and it works well. I’m fixing more Microsoft Teams meeting where I hope to take live evidence, which is something that I would not have thought possible. With COP work, one of the benefits of the e-filing system that was introduced in January is that I can access this sitting at home, pick up cases and deal with them without too much difficulty. Where I need papers, the majority are being sent to me via the local County Court using DX and I pick them up from there. Also, in COP, I have had a couple of Costs Officers who have said that provisional assessments have not been accepted, and the solicitors have requested an oral hearing, so I’ve been able to simply access the file using the e-file system and list them without delay. The Costs Masters meet virtually on a Friday morning to discuss work loads too, which is useful. We’ve had one Master off ill, but others have picked up the work in his absence. I thought it might be a prolonged holiday for us all but that’s not happened!

  • What impact do you think this will have on turnaround?

You won’t believe this but, whilst I’ve parroted on, I’ve had an email with an update so I have the exact figures, hot off the press for you! As of the 27th of April 2020, straight from the horse’s mouth, we have 656 cases in the office up to 7 weeks old, awaiting assessment. We have a further 257 waiting for supporting papers from the solicitors which have been e-filed and accepted and a further 464 in the e-filing queue waiting to be processed by the e-filing team. Essentially, we have a backlog of 1,200 cases. I’m not holding anything back from you, so hopefully you can appreciate the full picture. We have one Costs Officer who has been ill and there are 10 cases awaiting collection from them. In addition, we have 195 Final Costs Certificates waiting to be authorised, which are being prioritised at the moment above the assessments. We are in a position to deal with things at home, but the bottleneck is the admin team processing the e-filing. We are working with a 50% admin team in the office due to social distancing measures, so that is where the difficulty lies in the administration of all of those cases. I would hope that, once the rules are relaxed, we will have a full team in the office again. We have seen turnaround a lot worse than this, but I appreciate even more so as a former solicitor that cash flow is king, and I’m the first to understand that. If there is anything we can do to push this through, we will. E-filing proved to be a lot more complicated than anticipated and it has slowed things down, for which I sincerely apologise on behalf of the office.

  • Has the SCCO learnt anything so far from the pandemic?

We can work virtually and electronically, rather than with high chairs and quill pens! We will have to put it all together when we get back to normality and find a new way of working. I think that the lockdown experience will provide more benefits in the years to come and, to my mind, we will move forward a lot quicker now. The majority of firms don’t work with paper files anymore so, as night follows day, it must mean electronic files move up the queue for COP, but I don’t know what the timescales are for that. We have trialled this and the Costs Officers were happy to access the solicitors’ system to carry out the assessment but, for this to be successful, there will have to be protocols and security measures. Provided we can meet those, it will move forward. There is also the electronic bill which you know about (Stephanie Kaye and Andrew McAulay are part of the committee preparing a COP electronic bill). COP will not need the same level of complexity as the current electronic bill for inter partes work, so I would hope to see an electronic bill in motion by the end of this year, or early next year and the the rest will follow. So many questions will be up for grabs and only time will tell, but I’m sure the real impact will be known when we get back. It will push us out of the Victorian times and move us into the 21st century.

  • Have there been any regular issues with e-filing that Deputies should be aware of?

The hiccups have been loading it all up in the first place. With no electronic bill, it’s having to be scanned into the system and a paper copy prepared for assessment, then scanned back out to the solicitor. All the extra admin had meant that the bottleneck was even worse. Although the bill will have to be scanned to obtain a copy, the Costs Officers are sending a paper copy back to the solicitor after assessment and, from that point in time, the solicitor can electronically obtain the Final Costs Certificate. I hope this will solve some of the issues but this will be an ongoing problem, until the introduction of the electronic bill. From my own experience, the electronic bill is so much easier and it will speed up the process considerably in COP cases.

  • Is the SCCO still available by telephone?

Yes, they are answering the phone. You might have to wait a little bit longer due to fewer people in the office, but there are Cost Officers and Clerks available. If they can’t answer the query, they will email the Master who might email the representatives directly, which is speeding things up. Providing they are accredited legal representatives and not parties, I am more than happy to work in this way, as are my colleagues.

  • We’ve already touched on this, but do you think there will be a move to electronic files of papers for assessment in the future?

Yes. This is not in the public domain, but all I can say is that there is some movement towards a sort of ‘bundle bank’, which would mean that the SCCO is able to access an electronic bundle to carry out an assessment, rather than interrogating the solicitor’s system, which has been trialled already. That’s something that is being considered, and I’m sure lockdown will accelerate moves to electronic working.

  • The MOJ invited the panel of professionals last year to comment on several areas, including consistency of reductions on assessments. Is it likely that the SCCO will update its guidance for Costs Officers and professional Deputies to help with more consistent assessments?

We will wait and see what the responses are from the MOJ on that point. We can then take a fresh look at the guide knowing the full picture. Obviously, any move to the electronic bill or electronic files of papers will mean that the guide is updated too. It will be a work in progress.

  • What is the plan for your retirement?

I’ve done COP work in practice for many years. In 2006, I joined the SCCO and I couldn’t have been handed this work any quicker. I’ve worked almost exclusively from 2006 until last year or the year before on COP. Master James and Master Whalan will deal with COP after I retire. I think the senior judges would like all costs judges to deal with every aspect but in my mind, COP is specialist and you have to know what you’re doing, so I think it’s best kept with 2 or 3 judges. As for my retirement, I had planned to go on the 30th of September but in light of the current situation, I may find myself here until Christmas. The plan is to do more of what I enjoy, including sailing and hot air ballooning. A lot of my ballooning is abroad so I suspect even after lockdown, there will be difficulties with this. I might have to stay in the UK, although it’s tremendously difficult to fly a balloon in British weather! In 2021, I plan to take part in a balloon event across the English channel. I’ve done it once and I’d like to do it again – it’s much quicker than the ferry!

  • How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?

I felt that staying in a flat in London wouldn’t be ideal so I’ve come back up north. I’ve spent more time with Mrs Haworth than I have in the last 15 years! The north is a pretty part of the world so, when I haven’t been working, I’ve been out walking or doing things in the garden, albeit my work in the garden mainly involves supervising Mrs Haworth!

  • What are you most looking forward to after lockdown?

Meeting friends and going to the pub!!

Clarion would like to thank Master Haworth for taking part in Lockdown Lowdown. He and the SCCO continue to work extremely hard to service Court of Protection Costs work during this time. Coming up in the series, we will be hearing from Francesca Gardner from Kings Chambers and Ria Baxendale from the OPG. If you would like to suggest another interviewee for Lockdown Lowdown, please contact Stephanie Kaye at stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com or call 0113 336 3402.

 

 

Detailed guidance from Master Gordon-Saker on recoverable costs between the parties in Fuseon Ltd, R

The recent judgment in Fuseon Ltd, R provides a reminder of a number of established principles in respect of recoverability of various heads of costs between the parties.

The costs claim arose from a private prosecution by Fuseon Ltd, a Lancashire based letting agency, against a Director of the business who had committed fraud and theft of over £100,000 relating to tenancy deposits, personal expenses and false invoices. The police were unable to investigate and therefore the company brought a private prosecution using Central London firm, Edmonds Marshall McMahon Limited, having failed to find a local firm to take the case. The Director was ultimately convicted and an order was made for a payment of costs to the prosecution out of central funds including costs of the investigation. 

Costs were submitted in the sum of £427,909.00 to the Criminal Cases Unit of the Legal Aid Agency and were initially determined by the case manager in the sum of £180,000.00. The key decisions being a reduction from London hourly rates to Preston guidelines, a reduction in travel time to what would have been reasonable for a local firm, removal of duplication between fee earners, non-fee earner work, and a Singh reduction for proportionality.

Fuseon requested a redetermination and costs were increased to £240,000.00, a subsequent appeal was then dismissed by Master Rowley. In August 2019 Fuseon commenced judicial review proceedings and the decision of Master Rowley was quashed. It was directed that the assessment of the Claimant’s costs be remitted to the Senior Costs Master for further directions. The matter came before Master Gordon-Saker who re-heard the appeal from the determination of the case manager. This was dealt with on the papers at the Claimant’s request.

Hourly rates – At the initial assessment, it was not accepted that there was no choice but to instruct a central London firm. Rates for a local firm were therefore applied based on guideline rates for Preston. Master Gordon-Saker, guided by the comments of Lane J. in the judicial review judgment, found the use of a Central London firm to be reasonable on the facts. The Claimant had carried out suitable research and contacted firms but could not find anyone offering private prosecutions for fraud. It was reasonable to use London solicitors due to the specialism required. The hourly rates claimed were therefore reviewed against the guidelines for central London. The rates were allowed save for reductions to the Grade C and D handlers. It is worth noting that Master Gordon-Saker commented at paragraph 30 that ‘the guideline rates are of course just that. They are fairly blunt instruments designed to assist judges in the summary assessment of costs. The passage of time since 2010 means that they tend now to be used as a starting position rather than as carved in stone.’

Travel time – Additional travel was allowed in light of the permitted use of London Solicitors, however, travel to attend the client was disallowed as a client is generally expected to travel to attend their solicitor. 

Inter-fee earner discussions / duplication – Detailed guidance was provided in respect of what is and is not recoverable in this regard in paragraphs 42 through 44. Master Gordon-Saker confirmed that ‘reasonable time spent in inter-fee earner discussions is properly allowable. It is difficult to delegate tasks to junior fee earners without instructing them what to do and the reasonable time of the delegator and delegate is usually now considered to be recoverable. […] On the other hand, two fee earners attending on a witness or the client will rarely be reasonable, unless there is a specific reason. Lawyers should be reasonably adept, like most people, at speaking or listening and writing at the same time. For similar reasons I cannot see that more than one fee earner attending trial, together with Counsel, was reasonably required.’ For example, additional time was allowed for the Partner reviewing documents such as witness statements prepared by others but time spent for an additional fee earner to prepare for attendance at the trial was removed.

Non-fee earner work – Researching social media, contacting witnesses about the trial and preparing bundles were allowed as work normally carried out by fee earners. Items that were disallowed included photocopying (described in the bill as ‘collating extra copies’ and ‘preparing copies’), printing, posting, booking flights, and elements of the bundle preparation such as scanning.

Proportionality – Following from the judicial review judgment, it was found that the initial use of the CPS as a comparator to find the costs disproportionate was not legitimate. The Claimant had tried his best to get the police to take the case and his decision to institute the private prosecution was a last resort. The hours spent by each fee earner were considered and reductions were made to the principal handler and the Grade D assistants.

Points to take away

  • Use of a London firm may be reasonable for a particular specialism and if the client has made such enquiries as can reasonably be expected of a person in their position.
  • Travel to attend the client is not generally recoverable, I would suggest that this would turn on the facts and would be recoverable if there was a particular reason such as incapacity or the need for a site inspection.
  • Multiple fee earners attending meetings and hearings will be vulnerable at assessment. The context of the meeting should be considered.
  • Inter fee earner discussions are recoverable where it is necessary for delegation purposes. Again, consider the context of the meeting.
  • Care should be taken when describing tasks associated with preparing bundles to show legitimate fee earning work rather than scanning and copying.

Helen Spalding is an Associate in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at helen.spalding@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 288 5639.