The Senior Court Costs Office Guide – how to get paid for your work!

A recent publication of the Senior Courts Cost Office Guide was produced as a result of various changes in the way legal costs are being assessed. However, in respect of Court of Protection costs, not a great deal has changed since its inception. As a result, the 2018 guide brings the perfect opportunity to review the position on Court of Protection costs, getting paid for your work and the rules to follow.

Initially, Section 25 of the Mental Health Act 2005 created the weight of the Court of Protection, which protects the property and financial affairs of persons who lack the capacity to manage their own.

There are three methods for recovering your costs; Agreed costs, Fixed costs and Summary Detailed Assessment of costs.

Most Orders will contain a clause entitling the professional Deputy to be paid for the work undertaken. It will provide the option of taking fixed costs or having the costs assessed, subject to the terms of the Order.

Agreed Costs

As set out in the Guide, Agreed Costs are not generally available and would only be necessary in the circumstances that fixed costs do not cover the work undertaken and it would not be appropriate to undertake a costs assessment. For example, following the death of a Protected Party, they are often required to attempt to agree their costs to bring the matter to a smooth conclusion.

Fixed Costs

Practice Direction 19B supplementing Part 19 of the COP Rules 2017 sets out fixed costs that may be claimed by Solicitors and office holders in public authorities acting as Deputy for the Protected Party. However, the Court has the discretion to apply the rules to other professionals such as accountants and case managers acting as Deputy. The general rule is that the costs of the proceedings should be paid by the pp1 or their estate unless a Court Order provides for an alternative. Where a Court Order or direction provides for a detailed assessment, the Deputy can choose to take fixed costs in lieu.

Detailed Assessment

Professional Deputies should lodge a request for Detailed Assessment with the SCCO by way of N258b form. Accompanied by:

  1. the Bill of Costs
  2. the document giving right to Detailed Assessment
  3. copies of the Court Orders
  4. any fee notes of Counsel and/or expert as claimed within in the bill
  5. Written evidence of any other disbursement exceeding £500
  6. The relevant lodgement fee (currently £225.00 for detailed bills over £3,000, £115.00 for short form bills under £3,000)
  7. A copy of the OPG105 relating to the time period claimed within the Bill of Costs

In cases with costs exceeding £100,000.00, they are to be dealt with by a Master, and the relevant papers in support of the bill must only be lodged when requested.

It should be noted that, unlike litigation costs, a Court of Protection bill MUST NOT be filed electronically.

Once the assessment has taken place, you have 14 days from the date of receipt of the assessed bill to raise an appeal if dissatisfied. If following the review, you remain dissatisfied at the outcome, the SCCO will arrange a date for a oral hearing before a Master. In practice this is usually by telephone or letter.

After completion of the assessment, the Professional Deputy must complete the bill summary on the bill certifying the castings as correct, returning the original bill to the SCCO to enable them to issue the Final Costs Certificate, which is your authority to be paid.

Payments on account

Section 6 of the COP Practice Direction 19B states that Professional Deputies who elect for detailed assessment of the annual management charges can take payments on account for the first, second and third quarters of the year which are both proportionate and reasonable to the size of the estate. The interim bills must not exceed 25% of the estimated charges, so no more than 75% for the annum. The details of the interim bills received must be outlined within the Bill of Costs submitted to the SCCO.

If you require any further information, please contact bridie.sanderson@clarionsolicitors.com or call me on 0113 336 3350

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 What do Court of Protection Costs draftsmen actually do?

The legal world of costs is not the biggest or most well-known, and it’s often the case that many lawyers aren’t sure what Draftsmen actually do. This is especially true if the costs are related to the Court of Protection, as it’s another area that isn’t particularly familiar to many, with some potentially not even knowing which costs are assessed, or how.

The previous blog in this series focused on the Bill of Costs and the process of claiming your costs and ultimately getting paid. This blog will instead breakdown the process of what goes into a Bill of Costs within the Court of Protection world and how the Costs Draftsmen – and women – here at Clarion can help.

Process for creating a Bill of Costs

  1. Arranging the file

Once we receive a file from one of our clients, it’s opened within our case management system and we assess how long the Bill will take to draft and which one of the Draftsmen would be best suited to do it. We review various points including: the specific needs of the client, the amount of work in progress (WIP) on the file received, the complexities involved, and the workload of the Draftsmen involved to determine who in our team is best placed to prepare the Bill of Costs. There are 10 of us who deal with Court of Protection costs on a daily basis.

  1. Drafting the Bill

Thereafter, once the file is allocated, our job is to match up entries on the file and billing ledger and cost the file as appropriate. At Clarion, we review the file of papers on a page by page basis, for completeness. The costs are calculated electronically to ensure absolute accuracy and we will make note of any issues identified, to be raised with the client. We are fully aware of the restrictions and court requirements as to what is and is not recoverable in Court of Protection cases. As a result, we will use our experience and discretion to put the bill of costs together in a way that the Court will be happy with, which is fundamental for our clients’ reputations.

  1. Reviewing the file and the Bill of Costs

Once the whole file is efficiently costed, the Draftsman reviews the file and ledger once more and notes any missing entries on the ledger that are not evidenced in the file. We also check if there are things within the file that could be included in the Bill of Costs, that the fee earner didn’t know could be recovered. If there is anything missing from the file, the client is informed, giving them the opportunity to provide the documents required, to ensure that a complete log of evidence is submitted to the Court.

  1. Collating and arranging the Bill of Costs and bundle

Once all the information is present and the Bill of Costs complete, Clarion prepares the Form N258B, which is a request for detailed assessment of the costs, if they are payable out of a fund. We also draft a comprehensive letter of advice, informing the client of possible reductions and guidance to improve costs recovery going forward. All documents are returned to the client, enabling them to easily submit them to the Court for assessment.

  1. The assessment

The matter is thereafter assessed by the SCCO on the Standard Basis, and Clarion will consider the outcome of the assessment, to determine if it is reasonable or not. 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

Consequences of beating a Part 36 offer may be varied by the Court

Senior Courts Costs Office extends the principle in JLE v Warrington & Hamilton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust [2018] EWHC B18 (Costs).

In JLE  Master McCLoud held that where a Part 36 offer is beaten at a hearing, the Court has the power to consider the justness of each of the consequences of CPR 36.17 individually. In that case, the Court held that whilst it would not be unjust to allow costs on the indemnity basis or interest at the rate of 10% over base rate, it would be unjust to allow the uplift of 10% (often known as the “penalty payment”) given the amount by which the offer was beaten.

Following judgment in Andrews & Anor -v- Retro Computers & Anor [2019] EWHC B2 (Costs), there was a hearing to determine consequential orders on 5th March 2019.

Prior to the Oral Assessment of the Claimants’ costs, the Claimants had made Part 36 offers in the sum of £40,000. The bill of costs was ultimately assessed in the sum of a little more that £43,000 (inclusive of interest). Accordingly the Claimants submitted that they were entitled to the full range of orders under CPR 36.17. After finding that the Claimants should be entitled to additional interest and costs on the indemnity basis, Maser Friston considered whether or not to allow the “penalty payment” of 10% of the amount of the bill as assessed.

The Deputy Master pointed out that the Claimants had beaten the amount of the assessed bill by “only” 7.5%, and therefore considered that the uplift of 10% would be too high and therefore was minded to disallow the uplift under CPR 36.17(4)(d) on the basis that to do so would be unjust.

The Claimants submitted that pursuant to JLE the court had the power to “deconstruct” CPR 36.17 and to consider the unjustness or otherwise of each consequence individually, and that Master McCloud had held that the consequences of CPR 36.17 were not “all or nothing”. Therefore, they argued, that the Court had a general discretion not only to allow or disallow the penalty uplift, but where it considers that an uplift of 10% would be unjust, the Court may reduce the amount of the penalty uplift to a just level. The Court is therefore not constrained to disallow the penalty uplift in full if it considers that 10% is too high.

Following these submissions, Deputy Master Friston allowed an uplift of 7.5%, commensurate with the proportion by which the Claimants had beaten their offer.

Summary

The Court has the power to vary the percentage level of the uplift proscribed at CPR 36.17(4)(d). The proscribed rate is therefore a cap, not an entitlement, but if the Court finds that to allow the entirety of the 10% uplift would be unjust it is not bound to disallow the uplift entirely.

Every case will be decided on its own merits, but it seems reasonable that where a Claimant has beaten its own offer by less than 10%, the uplift should in principle be allowed in proportion to which the offer has been beaten.

The Claimants were represented by Richard Wilcock of Exchange Chambers, assisted by Matthew Rose of Clarion Solicitors.

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 Local Authority seeks orders to restrict the Husband’s contact with the Protected Party.

The case of SR v A Local Authority & Anor (2018), involves the Protected Party (SR), who was an 83-year-old woman who suffered from late onset Alzheimer’s, which was of moderate to severe intensity.

The Protected Party resides at a care home and lacks capacity to decide who she has contact with and to decide on any arrangements for such contact. The Local Authority raised awareness that the Protected Party may be at risk of harm in her husband’s sole care, due to his expressed views on euthanasia, which involved reference to throwing himself and his wife into a river and supplying her with tablets. The Protected Party’s husband also had restrictions placed on the care that he could provide to the Protected Party, such as having to be accompanied if he took her out of the care home. The Protected Party’s family wished for her to return home and the Protected Party has allegedly stated her wishes to be with her husband as she becomes distressed when he leaves her.

In determining whether the Protected Party would be at risk, the court reached the conclusion that the restriction sought by the Local Authority was neither justifiable, proportionate or necessary. They therefore declined to make the Order sought. It was believed that the Protected Party’s husband would most likely not harm the Protected Party, as he had been previously been with her many times unaccompanied. The Protected Party’s daughter also stated that her mother and her father were a happy and loving couple with no allegations of domestic violence ever having been made between them.

A new year, a new statement of costs. But why stop at that? A few intended changes to Costs Management too

The CPR committee have been hard at work again coming up with solutions to the problems that have been encountered by the legal profession since the Jackson reforms nearly 6 years ago.  Following the scratching of many heads, a few of those creases have been ironed out and the following proposals have been made:

Statements of costs

A voluntary 2 year pilot scheme for the new statement of costs will be implemented, starting from 1 April 2019.

The current proposals are for two new forms of costs statements, namely N260A and N260B which may be used for summary assessment. These new forms will  include a VAT declaration and the forms will now include the signature of a legal representative, which is in line with the rules, as opposed to a company partner. The Form N260A will cross refer to the document schedule in the summary. No model forms are available yet.

Master Howarth has suggested that the precedent Q, the document that identifies whether there has been an under or overspend in a phase of a budget, is incorporated into the statement of costs. This will create transparency at the summary assessment stage regarding the amount incurred in comparison to the approved budget – supporting the need for a well drafted budget.

The committee is to give consideration to lower value cases and the relevance of statements of costs for those cases where there will never be a summary assessment, as there was concern regarding the wasted costs incurred in those instances.

Costs management

The precedent H costs budget will remain the same, but there will be some adjustments to the guidance notes to align costs budgeting with the new electronic bill approach.

There has been many a debate regarding what date the incurred costs should be included up to in the budget and there is tension in the wording of the rules in that regard. The committee have recognised this and have debated the very same problem. They have understood that differing practices appear to be in place and that overall there is value in a consistent approach. It has been advised that this issue should be resolved as part of a future review of the practice direction.

There will be some adjustments to the precedent R, however that is the only guidance that has been provided at this stage, so the amendments remain unknown for the time being.

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.