Court of Protection Court Fees: An Update

In order to have a bill of costs assessed, it is necessary to pay a Court Fee to the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO). Depending on the type of the bill, the fee amount varies. Currently, within the Court of Protection, the cost to have a bill assessed is £225 for a detailed bill and £115 for a short form bill of costs. A short form bill is a bill with profit costs up to £3,000 and a detailed bill of costs is a bill with profit costs above £3,000.

From the 22nd July 2019, these fees are due to change. By way of The Court Fees (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2019 there is due to be a reduction to the Court Fees due to have a bill of costs assessed. S4 (3)(a) of the Act states that the fee for filing a bill of costs to be assessed will be £85.00. This is dramatic change within the rules and something that will affect all professional Deputies who wish to have their bill of costs assessed, making it cheaper to do so.

The most significant aspect of the Act is that going forward, there will be no distinction between fees for filing short form and detailed bills of costs. As stated, this will be taking place from the 22nd July 2019 and so all professional Deputies should be aware of this when sending any bills to the SCCO to be assessed on or after this date.

There will also be changes made to application, appeal and hearing fees for all Court of Protection matters. These can be found in s3 The Court Fees (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2019.

 

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A PART 36 OFFER WHICH EXCLUDES INTEREST MAY BE VALID

A Part 36 offer in detailed assessment proceedings may be valid where it excludes interest under the Judgments Act 1838.

In Horne -v- Prescot (No.1) Ltd [2019] EWHC 1322 (QB) the Court held that a Part 36 offer on costs which excludes interest is a valid Part 36 offer, contrary to Ngassa -v- The Home Office [2018] EWHC B21.

CPR 36.5(4) states that a “part 36 offer… [for] a sum of money will be treated as inclusive of all interest…” In Ngassa it was held that therefore an offer which purported to exclude interest was not a valid Part 36 offer and therefore would not attract the consequences of Part 36.

However, in Horne the judge found that in detailed assessment proceedings, interest accruing under section 17 of the Judgments Act 1838 does not form part of the claim for costs, as it is a statutory entitlement in respect of which the Court is not required to make any finding. Therefore, unlike interest which may form a part of substantive proceedings (for example interest under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1988) which forms part of the claim and must be Ordered by the Court, Judgments Act interest does not form a part of the “claim” for costs, and is not required to be ordered by the Court (though it may be disallowed).

Whilst the judgment in Horne is both legally sound and eminently sensible, as CPR 36 was not drafted with detailed assessment proceedings in mind (indeed until 2013 it was not possible to make a Part 36 offer in costs proceedings and is only now applicable due to a modification to Part 47 specifically applying Part 36 to detailed assessment) practitioners should bear in mind that Horne is a first instance decision and a different court on a different day may find differently. It may be prudent for practitioners to continue to include interest in Part 36 offers on costs until further authority clarifies the position. It is however a useful judgment to deploy where there is any dispute as to the validity of an offer.

Matthew Rose is an Associate in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at matthew.rose@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 222 3248. You can contact the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

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.

CONSEQUENCES OF BEATING A PART 36 OFFER: INJUSTICE

There have been various cases recently on how the courts consider whether it would be “unjust” to apply the consequences of CPR 36.17.

In White -v- Wincott Galliford Limited [2019] EWHC B6 (Costs) it was held that it would be unjust to allow an additional amount (CPR 47.17(4)(d)) for the whole of a claim where the offer had only related to some of the issues.

In Invista Textiles & Anor -v- Adriana Botes & Ors (costs judgment unreported) it was held that there is a high bar to demonstrate injustice. The ratio of the judgment suggests that the amount by which an offer has been beaten is at least not the only criterion which the Court should consider. Where a defendant / paying party seeks to argue that it would be unjust to allow some of all of the consequences of CPR 36.17 claimants / receiving parties would do well to refer to this authority as an example of the threshold for “injustice” which must be met.

It should also be noted that the court has previously held that the amount of the additional amount itself cannot be taken into account when considering whether it would be “just” to award the consequences of Part 36.17 per Cashman -v- Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust [2015] EWHC 1312 (QB). In that case, the court on appeal held that the assessing officer had erred in refusing to award the additional amount “not because he considered the making of such an award unjust, but because he thought it unjust to make an award of the required amount”.

There is currently some inconsistency in the judicial approach to the application of the test of injustice. In the opinion of the author, the test is a high bar (supported by White and Invista) and the mere fact that the additional amount of 10% may appear high does not of itself render the consequence “unjust”. The consequences of CPR 36.17 are intended to be punitive and the purpose of the exception for “injustice” is not to allow judges to “soften the blow” to a litigant which has failed to accept a Part 36 offer, but to avoid genuine injustice where there are “exceptional” circumstances.

Matthew Rose is an Associate in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at matthew.rose@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 222 3248. You can contact the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

Court of Protection Costs – Types of Assessments for your Costs.

The previous blog in this series focused on the process of what goes into a Bill of Costs in the Court of Protection world. This blog will instead look at the process of an assessment in the Court of Protection and the different types of assessment that can occur.

Firstly, authority for the cost’s assessment must be established, as all Orders as to costs are at the discretion of the Court of Protection. There are three main methods of evaluating costs; agreed costs, fixed costs and summary/detailed assessment of Costs.

  • Agreed Costs

These kinds of costs Order are not regularly available in Court of Protection cases. As a principle, all bills of costs must be assessed, except where fixed costs are available. However, the Court may authorise parties to agree costs, where appropriate to do so. This is often used upon the death of a Protected Party whereby the Deputy is expected to agree costs with the Executor of the estate.

  • ­Fixed Costs

­Found within Practice Direction 19B, fixed costs are available to solicitors and professionals acting as Deputy. The general rule is that costs of the proceedings should be paid by P or charged to their estate, but this rule can be departed from.

In Cases where fixed costs are not appropriate, professional Deputies may, if preferred, apply to the SCCO for a detailed assessment of costs. However, this does not apply if P’s net assets are below £16,000. In these cases, the option for detailed assessment will only arise if the Court makes a specific order.

  • Detailed Assessment

The detailed assessment of costs under Orders or Directions of the Court of Protection is dealt with in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules. Professional Deputies should lodge a request for detailed assessment with the SCCO (not the Court of Protection or the Office of Public Guardian) using the N258B (request for detailed assessment), accompanied by:

  • The bill of costs;
  • Documents giving the right to detailed assessment;
  • Copies of all the orders;
  • Fee notes of counsel or experts;
  • Details of other disbursements;
  • Postal Address of any person who has a financial interest in the outcome of assessment;
  • Relevant assessment fee (£115 or £225);
  • The OPG105 (if applicable).

Part 27 of the Practice Direction 17.2(2) states that cases over £100,000.00, complex or other cases are to be dealt with by a Master. The relevant papers in support of the bill must only be lodged if requested by the Master.

Once the bill of costs is lodged in the correct manner, the Costs Officer will review the bundle of documents and assess the costs. The Costs Officer will review the bill of costs alongside the files of papers and decide whether costs have been reasonably, necessarily and proportionately incurred, making reductions, where necessary based on relevant case law and judicial decisions. The bill of costs is thereafter returned to the Deputy for consideration.

Clarion can also assist with requests for reassessment if the outcome is not as expected. If you would like further information about this process, then please do not hesitate to get in contact.

Joshua Sidding is a Paralegal in the Court of Protection Team of the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at Joshua.sidding@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 222 3245, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

You can also take advantage of our free telephone advice service – available outside of office hours – by calling 07764 501252.

Tips for Recoverability

All COP Lawyers know that the SCCO Guideline Hourly Rates can be frustrating when trying to recover all of your costs as opposed to other areas of law in which higher rates can be charged. As a result, some believe it to be unreasonable that a Costs Officer ca reduce the costs down even further on assessment. Here are some things that we have seen helps improve the recoverability of your fees.

Using 3 minutes to arrange and make payments. I know you’re told this on every assessment you’ve had back from the SCCO but ignoring it isn’t going to make your recoverability any better. The Costs Officer isn’t going to change their mind. Arranging payments are viewed as an office overhead so its best practice for you to delegate this work to a Grade D fee earner and limit the time spent and charged for to 3 minutes. The Costs Officer is going to see the effort being made and as a result, this will help with your reputation with the Court and will improve your Bill assessment outcomes.

You, like all other COP Lawyers dislike the low guideline rates that you’re restricted to. If there are any matters of complicated work, outline this to us or your other Costs Draftsperson and request enhanced rates on that particular issue. We have found that there is a higher chance of success for an enhanced rate when it is applied specifically to a complex and difficult issue than when it is applied to the whole bill. Doing this allows the Costs Officer to see specifically what was difficult and justifies why you are requesting the additional fees. We are often proactive in applying these for you when a complex matter arises, such as jurisdictional differences, the requirement of language interpretations, abusive Clients etc.

The Costs Officer will reduce or remove a second fee earner attendance at a meeting in accordance with the decisions made within the Matter of Garylee Grimsley (December 1998). Therefore, it is incredibly important for your recovery that the dual attendance is explained and justified in your attendance note. Just a line to outline why the second person was required will do, were they the main fee earner alongside the Deputy? Did the Client or Client’s family request they be present? Was the Client abusive or dangerous? It may be allowed at a reduced rate however it is

As simple as this one may sound, keep your file in chronological order and easy to get through. The last thing you want to do is make the Costs Officers life difficult when they’re assessing your costs.

Furthermore, ensure that you accurately time record your work. We appreciate that different firms have differing levels of technology available, but this need not be the most complex and time consuming system. If you do have the option to tag your time entries, this will help all parties involved when it comes to the costing of the work. Bulk time recording will cause difficulties so avoid this as much as possible. Also, ensure that the time spent is reasonable from the outset and delegate where appropriate. However, please don’t self-edit your time because if this is later reduced on assessment you will have doubly been reduced where not necessary.

Additionally, including details of the Client’s financial position assists the Costs Officer in ensuring the work undertaken is in proportion to the level of assets held and increases the chances of your time being recovered, especially in circumstances where the Client’s assets are significant and various financial schedules and reviews are required. See https://clarionlegalcosts.com/2015/06/09/how-valuable-is-the-protected-partys-estate/ for further information on this point.

I hope this helps and if you have any further suggestions or questions I would be happy to hear and discuss them further at bridie.sanderson@clarionsolicitors.com

Costs Capping Pilot Scheme

Sir Rupert Jackson’s proposal regarding costs capping is now a reality, with the launch of the voluntary capped costs pilot scheme on 14 January in London, Manchester and Leeds Business and Property Courts.

The aim of the pilot scheme

The aim of the scheme is to improve access to the Courts through:

  • streamlining the procedures of the Pilot Courts;
  • lowering the costs of litigation;
  • increasing the certainty of costs exposure; and
  • speeding up the resolution of claims.

The pilot will provide for a cap on recoverable costs for each stage of the case, and an overall cap on the total, rather than a fixed sum. The maximum a party will be ordered to pay will be £80,000.

The promise of a fixed recoverable costs scheme was first made two years ago by Sir Rupert Jackson in his IPA annual lecture “The Time Has Come”. His view was that “high litigation costs inhibit access to justice. They are a problem not only for individual litigants, but also for public justice generally. If people cannot afford to use the courts, they may go elsewhere with possibly dubious results. If costs prevent access to justice, this undermines the rule of law”. He predicted, or perhaps rather hoped, that the fixed recoverable costs project could be accomplished during the course of that year.

However, the flurry of chatter and speculation regarding the fixed recoverable costs scheme was left behind in 2016 and, as we moved into 2017, it was replaced with Sir Rupert’s proposals regarding costs capping, which he advised would follow the model used in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.

About the pilot scheme

This newly launched pilot scheme will last for two years. For those cases with a monetary value that are less than £250,000, and where the trial is two days or less, the voluntary pilot scheme is available. It cannot be adopted, however, for any cases where there are allegations of fraud and dishonesty; where extensive disclosure, witness evidence or expert evidence is likely; or where the claim will involve numerous issues and numerous parties.

Agreement of both parties is essential if the pilot’s shortened litigation process is to be pursued. The claim will exit the pilot if there is any dispute by any party in that regard. This shortened process is expected to be less costly, with the initial statements of case being limited in length and accompanied by the documents upon which the party proposes to rely.

Further, witness statements will also be limited in length, with the general rule being reliance on oral evidence of two witnesses. There are restrictions placed on expert evidence, which will only be permitted if the court is satisfied that it’s necessary, and it is likely to be on a single joint basis.

The trial judge will take a hands-on approach, to ensure that the trial estimate is adhered to, and has the power to strictly control cross-examination. When the several imposed time limits for filing the documents are considered collectively, the whole process – from the issue of the claim to the hearing of the trial – should not exceed 11 months.

The costs for each phase of the litigation is restricted to the cap and an assessment of costs is still required. Costs budgeting and detailed assessment are not applicable, with summary assessment being the favoured choice of the rule makers. The normal practice of filing the statement of costs prior to the hearing and the assessment of those costs then taking place at the trial will be avoided. Instead, the parties shall file and exchange schedules of their costs incurred in the proceedings not more than 21 days after the conclusion of the trial.

The schedules shall contain details regarding each applicable stage in the Capped Costs Table. The maximum cap of £80,000 for recoverable costs does not include court fees, VAT, enforcement costs and wasted costs, which are claimed additionally.

For those instances where Part 36 offers have been made the cap is increased to £100,000, and so Part 36 offers continue to play a central role.

With claims now able to be issued and pursued to trial in less than 12 months, and with costs not exceeding £80,000, will more parties engage in litigation? Or, conversely, will this restriction on the amount of costs that can be recovered be off putting? Only time will tell.

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.