All you need to know about Counsel’s Fees in COP – How are they assessed?

Deputyship management is not always plain sailing, and on occasions, professional Deputies may be instructed to take on a case whereby the background is complicated, the circumstances are unusual and where Counsel are required to progress the matter. We have investigated the general rules applied when Counsel’s’ fees are to be assessed, and here is everything you need to know.

On what basis are the reductions made?

Firstly, it is important to recognise that in Deputyship matters, all costs are open for assessment. When a Deputyship Order is issued, it provides the authority for the professionals involved in the case to have their costs assessed. This includes the Professional Deputy, Counsel and in some instances, if a translator is required, their costs would also be subject to assessment.

What do the SCCO look at when deciding whether Counsel’s fees should be allowed?

Following a conversation with an experienced Costs Officer, advice was obtained regarding what aspects they consider when reviewing Counsel’s fees, once a bill of costs had been submitted for assessment. As there are no clear “black and white” guidelines for the assessment of Counsel’s fees, the Costs Officers are able to use their discretion on a case by case basis to review what would be a reasonable and proportionate amount to allow. Approximately, £300.00 per hour is allowed for a hearing, and £250.00 per hour for general work, however based on the complexity, volume of work undertaken, geographical location of Counsel and the breakdown of work outlined on Counsel’s fee note, these hourly rates could be revised by the Costs Officer.

It is important to note that it is your responsibility to work with your costs provider to include a detailed narrative within the Bill of Costs, explaining and justifying Counsel’s fees and involvement. For example, the Costs Officer would question why a Leeds based firm would instruct a London based Counsel. Details of the facts of the case, any hearings that have taken place, and the necessity of the work conducted should be included within the bill. Furthermore, when the bill is submitted for assessment, a Counsel’s fee note should be provided with the Bill of Costs. A further point to take into account is that not all Counsel’s fee notes are detailed enough, and therefore this increases the importance of including information relating to the complexity and background of the case when preparing the Bill of Costs.

A general understanding is that if Counsel had claimed for overall “refreshing themselves on the case” as they have not worked on the matter for a prolonged period of time this would not be allowed upon assessment as it would be deemed disproportionate and unreasonable.

Are the Deputyship firm expected to cover the reductions?

Counsel and professional Deputies are both aware that their costs are to be assessed and therefore, they are also aware that their costs could be reduced upon assessment. It is recommended for Counsel and the professional Deputy to make an agreement before the Bill of Costs is sent for assessment, whether the Deputy’s firm would cover the shortfall if reductions are made, or Counsel agrees to refund the reductions. Secondly, it was advised to wait until the Bill of Costs has been assessed before settling Counsel’s fees.

Do Counsel have a right to dispute the reductions?

If Counsel’s fees have been reduced upon assessment, they have a right to dispute the decision. This would be done in the format of a Request for Reassessment, prepared by your costs provider, outlining the reasons why you disagree with the reductions made and evidence in support of this.

It is noteworthy that Counsel are considered to be an “interested party” and therefore the professional Deputy would have to serve a copy of the provisionally assessed Bill of Costs on Counsel, and receive confirmation that they accept the amount allowed before the SCCO will issue the Final Costs Certificate, which provides authority for the Deputy and Counsel to be paid.

If you have any queries, or require any further information then please do not hesitate to contact Georgia Clarke at georgia.clarke@clarionsolicitors.com

Advertisements

Court of Protection Costs – How to get paid and what happens to your costs?

As many hard-working solicitors are focused on ensuring their clients get the best service, it is possible for them to lose sight of their own costs. Here is a refresher guide to the procedure for getting paid.

The Payment Process

The process begins when the anniversary of the Order/matter completes, and the files are sent to your Costs Lawyer or Law Costs Draftsman; at Clarion, we offer the expertise of both. It is good practice to do this annually, as close to the end of the annual management year as possible (Section 6 of PD19B). This means that no costs are lost if there is an overlap period from the previous months or years.

Secondly, whilst the file is with your trusted Costs Lawyer or Law Costs Draftsman, the Bill of Costs is prepared. A Detailed Bill is required for matters with profit costs exceeding £3,000 and a Short Form Bill is needed for matters with profit costs lower than £3,000. There is no difference in the procedure for the bills – the difference in their names reflects their differing length and the amount of detail that they contain.

The Bill of Costs is then completed and, along with supporting documents, filed with the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) for assessment, after which its returned by the SCCO to your lawyer.

Process for reassessment

Upon reviewing the assessment, if you are unhappy with it, you can lodge a request for reassessment with the SCCO. Here at Clarion, we are more than happy to review any assessments and consider an appeal; we can also lodge the request for reassessment on your behalf. Please get in touch with a member of our Costs Team to find out more.

The process for the request for reassessment is as follows:

  • If you are unhappy with the outcome of the assessment, you can request a reassessment within 14 days of the original assessment.
  • The Bill of Costs is returned to the Costs Officer for reconsideration in respect of the points appealed.
  • The Costs Officer will generally accept where they have made an error. They base their assessment on the points raised before them, so these points need to be justified; Costs Officers have been known to be unpredictable.
  • If you are still unhappy with the assessment, you can proceed to an oral hearing before a Costs Master, but be aware that this can be an expensive and timely process.

When you are happy with the assessment outcome, copies of the assessed Bill of Costs are served on the interested parties (if applicable) who have 14 days to challenge the Bill.

Once the assessment is finalised then a Costs Summary can be completed and filed with the SCCO, allowing the Costs Certificate to be drawn, and you to get paid.

Then the procedure will repeat, as and when the time period (annually) completes, although there are various scenarios which would result in changes to the process as described above. In these circumstances, get in contact with our team and we can assist, where necessary, to ensure that you are paid.

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.

The Hospital Trust v V & Ors [2017] EWCOP 20 (20 October 2017)

The Protected Party is 21 and suffers from a severe learning disability. She has an ‘understanding‘ age of about 3-5 years. She conceived a child in late 2015, by means which in all probability amounted to rape. The perpetrator of the sexual assault remains unknown by neither the family or the Protected Party. In 2016, she gave birth to a child that was placed in foster care.

At 28 weeks pregnant, the Health Authority sought the authority of the Court of Protection to arrange the delivery of the baby by caesarean section; Newton J made the relevant order in August 2016, and the baby was born on the following day.

The father of the baby is unknown. The circumstances of the conception were undetermined although it is believed that the father may be a friend of one of the Protected Party’s brothers. There is professional agreement that the Protected Party did not have the capacity to consent to sexual intercourse.

The Protected Party was confused and distressed at the pregnancy and confinement, and immensely distressed when her baby was removed from her care, pursuant to emergency orders obtained under Part IV Children Act 1989. Professionals speak of an extreme reaction to these events: a “significant physical and psychological trauma“.

An Application was made to the Court of Protection in 2016 for best interests determinations relevant to ante-natal care, and the delivery of the baby. The issues before the Court now are:

  1. i) Whether the Protected Party has the capacity to consent to sexual relations:
  2. ii) Whether she has the capacity to agree to the administration of non-therapeutic contraception;

iii) Whether it is in the Protected Party’s best interests that she receives non-therapeutic contraception.

All parties shared a strong common objective to protect the Protected Party from further harm, and specifically from sexual exploitation and pregnancy. However, they differ as to the means by which this can, or should, be achieved.

The Applicant, The Hospital Trust (“the Health Authority“), supported by the community learning disabilities team of the relevant Local Authority (“the Local Authority”) contend that it is in the Protected Party’s best interests that she should be provided with contraception as part of a wider safeguarding package, that should be trialled for a number of months.

Any medical intervention she found traumatising and she was scared. Though physically she healed well after the baby, the removal of the baby had a devastating effect on her emotional and psychological welfare. She could not understand where the baby was and was constantly asking for her baby. She was physically lashing out at her mother, self-harming, not sleeping, not eating, throwing herself on the floor and the community care officer took her to the GP and she got anti-depressants.

Following the delivery of the baby, professional attention swiftly turned to the formulation of a plan to prevent a recurrence of the pregnancy. Attentions turned to educating the Protected Party about sexual health. The Official Solicitor acting on the Protected Party’s behalf indicated that contraception was not necessary, and that the safeguarding package is sufficient to protect her.

The safeguarding plan appears to have been broadly successful, however, there have been a number of lapses of the safeguarding plan over the last 12 months. These lapses are admitted by the parents. They included leaving the Protected Party alone with her male siblings, on a number of occasions, which was against the safeguarding policy that had been decided upon.

Best interests

There is disagreement between the advocates as to the correct approach to the best interests of the Protected Party and a number of questions were raised:

i) Is it in the Protected Party’s best interests that she receives contraceptive protection?

ii) If so, what form of contraception is in her best interests, as the less restrictive option?

iii) If contraception is in her best interests, is it in her interests that such contraception is first trialled?

iv) Would the benefits of the contraceptive outweigh the negatives with regards to the best interests of the Protected Party?

It was decided that the Health and Local Authorities say that the safeguarding plan has been robust, but that contraception offers an important additional level of safeguard in the event that the plan fails.

The authorities argue that contraception will materially reduce the risk of pregnancy yet further. The social worker summarised the position in her oral evidence thus:

Even though I believe that the plan is robust and the family are working with us, breaches are still happening, and the last two breaches, the parents did not even know of the Protected Party’s whereabouts.”

They continued, “this will give us an extra layer of protection, in the event that anything goes wrong, or not within the family’s control. However, it was agreed by all that the Protected Party would need assistance in administering the contraception and charts would be created monitoring the menstrual cycle of the Protected Party.”

In considering all the issues raised, the views of the Protected Party were taken into consideration. The Protected Party demonstrated a “clear ability to learn“, and had an understanding of certain forms of contraception, is able to identify these and is “able to demonstrate the part of the body where each contraceptive is used.” The following were considered:

i) She does not wish to become pregnant again, or to have further children;

ii) She wishes to avoid surgery;

iii) She does not want intrauterine contraception;

iv) She would favour the patch (the view formed by the community matron.)

Following a number of reviews, it was concluded that the Protected Party had limited understanding of the “patch” and the link to pregnancy.

Judgment

By noting that the Protected Party is not sexually active, had no boyfriend, and that the proposed administration of contraception is non-therapeutic. It was judged against making a decision that is unfavourable and is one that respects the Protected Party’s Article 8 rights, and maintains clear focus on what is best for the Protected Party’s, striking the balance between protection and empowerment.

I return to the point I made at the outset of this judgment: the combined objective of the parties to ensure that the Protected Party is protected from further harm. The Local Authority considers that the safeguarding plan is “as robust as it can be”. Although The Protected Party’s mother has deposed in her signed statement to the fact that her daughter “… is never alone, she comes everywhere with me”, this has been shown – even very recently – not to be true.

The fact that the protection plan would remain unaltered whether contraception is administered or not does not mean, that there are not real advantages to the Protected Party receiving contraception. The safeguarding plan is designed to reduce the risk of sexual exploitation particularly outside of the home; contraception is proposed to reduce the risk of pregnancy in the event that the plan fails. If this additional safeguard can be introduced without undue side effects, and is a safeguard which the Protected Party is not unwilling to accept, then the best interests balance tilts in favour of its use.”

The prospect of any medical intervention, even the simple task of being weighed and measured in a clinic, and of blood pressure being taken, has left the Protected Party “petrified” in the recent past. It is vital for the court to reduce the need for such medical interventions.

It was decided that it may be that the side-effects of the patch are uncomfortable to the Protected Party in that regard and that the disbenefits of the contraceptive patch outweigh the benefits. This will only be known after a trial of the patch. At the conclusion of the trial period, or at an earlier time, should it become clear that the contraceptive patch is not appropriate, a best interests’ meeting will be held, at which a decision will be taken as to whether it is right to continue with the patch or whether an alternative method of contraception should be attempted, or whether the likely disbenefits of continuation or of any other form of contraception outweigh the benefits.

It was declared that it was in the Protected Party’s best interests that a contraceptive patch be administered for a trial period of up to six months. I shall list the case for review to coincide with the end of the trial, when further decisions can be taken.

I wish to make clear that this decision is about the Protected Party, and her best interests; the decision is taken in the context of her unique situation. I wholly reject the submission on behalf of the Official Solicitor that by declaring contraception in the Protected Party’s best interests I would in one way or another be setting a precedent for all incapacitous and vulnerable women.”

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Georgia Clarke (georgia.clarke@clarionsolicitors.com) or the team at COPCosts@clarionsolicitors.com.

The Application for permission to Deprive the Protected Party (a minor) of his Liberty in circumstances where there was no secure accommodation available.

This was an application by a Local Authority in relation to a young boy; the Protected Party, who is now 13. He previously lived with his grandmother under a Special Guardianship Order, but became the subject of a full care Order in December 2015. The Protected Party had displayed a desperate history and a catalogue of very seriously uncontrolled behaviour, damaging to both himself and others. As a result, he had been placed in no less than six different residential settings. Each setting ultimately broke down, sometimes very rapidly, as the staff there were simply unable to manage his behaviour and keep him safe.

The Local Authority would have wished by June 2017 to place the Protected Party in an approved secure accommodation placement. Such placements are very scarce and they were unable to find one. So, they hoped to place him in a unit which was not an approved secure accommodation at X. Their plan was, however, that within X he should, if necessary, be subject to considerable restraint, including physical restraint, in order to keep him safe and prevent him from absconding, as he had done on occasions in the past.

Section 25 of the Children Act 1989 makes express and detailed provision for the making of what are known as Secure Accommodation Orders. Such Orders may be made and, indeed, frequently are made by Courts, including Courts composed of lay magistrates. It is not necessary to apply to the High Court for a Secure Accommodation Order, however, as no approved secure accommodation was available, the Local Authority required the authorisation of a Court for the inevitable Deprivation of Liberty of the Protected Party. Mr Justice Holman expressed his concern over the way in which Applications of this sort were handled, saying that “the device of resort to the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court is operating to by-pass the important safeguard under the regulations of approval by the Secretary of State of establishments used as secure accommodation. There is a grave risk that the safeguard of approval by the Secretary of State is being denied to some of the most damaged and vulnerable children. This is a situation which cannot go on, and I intend to draw it to the attention of the President of the Family Division.” The Judge Ordered that the child now be joined as a party to these proceedings and Cafcass must allocate a Guardian to act on his behalf. A further hearing was ordered to be fixed in one month. It was stated that the Guardian must file and serve an interim report shortly before that hearing. Further, in view of the gravity of the subject matter and the age of the child, the Judge Ordered that he must be enabled to attend the hearing if he expresses a wish to do so unless the Guardian thought it would be damaging to the health, wellbeing or emotional stability of the child to do so. In his view it was very important that in these situations, which in plain language involve a child being ‘locked up’, the child concerned should, if he wishes, have an opportunity to attend a court hearing. The exception to that is clearly if the child is so troubled that it would be damaging to his health, wellbeing or emotional stability to do so.

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Georgia Clarke (georgia.clarke@clarionsolicitors.com) or the team at COPCosts@clarionsolicitors.com.