COSTS PAID BY A THIRD PARTY – BREACH OF THE INDEMNITY PRINCIPLE?

The case of HMRC -v- Gardiner and Others [2018] EWHC 1716 (QB) is a case concerning an alleged breach of the indemnity principle.

Background

The Respondents were amongst several tax payers challenging penalties imposed by HMRC for incorrect tax returns. EDF Tax Defence Ltd (“EDF”) were the tax advisors.

The Respondents were successful and HMRC were ordered to pay their costs.

Costs proceedings

EDF were at the forefront of the work carried out in the matter. Counsel was instructed to represent the Respondents and the fees were paid by EDF. HMRC therefore alleged a breach of the indemnity principle on the basis that the Respondents had not paid Counsel’s fees and that there was no direct retainer in place between the Respondents and Counsel.

The argument failed and the key points to note are as follows:

  1. There was never an agreement that the Respondent would not be liable for Counsel’s fees (see paragraph 30 of the Judgment – “The presumption that a client instructing a solicitor or representative to represent them will be liable for costs incurred for such representative may be rebutted by the paying party proving that there was a bargain between the client and the representative that under no circumstances was the client to be liable for costs”).
  2. Counsel represented the Respondents at the hearing, not EDF.
  3. The arrangement was no different to a trade union funding arrangement.
  4. The key for the indemnity principle is a liability to pay and not payment/discharge of the liability (see paragraph 30 of the Judgment – “It is liability to pay rather than who makes payment which is material”).

Had evidence been produced that the Respondents would never have been liable for Counsel’s fees, then the Court would have reached an alternative conclusion. This is therefore a useful case to rely on for parties seeking costs which have been met by a third party, but are facing indemnity principle challenges from a paying party.

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs Litigation Funding Team. Andrew can be contacted at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com
or on 0113 336 3334 or on 07764 501252.

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Clarion Costs Legal Updates

We have incorporated a collection of our blogs into a Blog booklet. The blogs were current at the

date of publication, however these may have now been superseded. Please visit our blog

(https://clarionlegalcosts.com/) for continuous updates on all costs law.

• Page 1 – Introduction

• Page 2 – Good news for those that prepare an accurate costs budget by Sue Fox

• Page 4 – Fixed Costs – the effect of acceptance of a Part 36 offer by Matthew Rose

• Page 6 – Payment on Account or Final Invoices? – another solicitor/own client costs

battle… by Andrew McAulay

• Page 7 – The Disclosure Pilot Scheme – what roles do costs estimates and precedent H

costs budgets have? by Sue Fox

• Page 8 – Proportionality – a flurry of cases by Andrew McAulay

Joanne Chase

• Page 9 – Part 36 offers, the basis of assessment, and knowing your expert by

Joanne Chase

Please click here

For any assistance, please contact the Costs and Litigation Funding Team at Clarion Solicitors 0113 246 0622.

 

 

Points of Dispute and Replies: The Dos and Donts

CPR 47 provides that Points of Dispute and Replies should follow “as closely as possible” the format of Precedent G. CPR 47.9 allows for the paying party to raise disputes to points in the Bill of Costs drafted by the receiving party.

Points of Dispute ‘must be short and to the point’; parties are expected to make their point in a succinct and concise way. In the recent case of Mead v British Airways PLC, the Defendant spent over seven pages setting out one point of dispute. The claimant’s reply was two pages. District Judge Moss accepted the Claimant’s position and the point was dismissed. This is a clear example that a point can be raised and dealt with concisely without the need for disproportionate and lengthy argument. Indeed, in our experience less is often more and judges can be put off and confused by excessive Points of Dispute or Replies. It is not uncommon to see assessing judges commenting to the effect that Points of Dispute were too long and whilst this may not directly affect the outcome, it may well make the judge less well-disposed to a party in the assessment.

Practitioners tempted to set out Points of Dispute or Reply at great length should bear in mind the cautionary tale of Mylward -v- Weldon [1595] EWHC Ch 1, in which the court held that the matters in dispute could have been set out in 16 pages, rather than the 120 page bundle which the claimant’s lawyer had filed. The court ordered that the claimant’s legal representative should be brought to court, and the warden “shall cut a whole in the myddest of the {bundle}, and put {the lawyer’s} head through the hole, so that it hangs about his shoulders; and then shall lead him bare headed and bare faced round about Westminster Hall whilst the Courts are sitting and shew him at the bar of every of the three Courts within the Hall, and shall then take him back again to the Fleet {prison} and keep him prisoner until he shall have paid £10 to Her Majesty for a fine, and 20 nobles to the defendant for his costs in respect of the aforesaid abuse”.

That said, it is imperative for parties to explaining the reasoning as to why they dispute an item in a Bill of Costs. It is not enough to merely state that an item is disputed; the reasons for the dispute must be disclosed. The onus is on the parties to find the correct balance of getting the point across and providing the required information to ensure the point/reply is agreed with by the DJ.

When filing Points and Replies, it is imperative all parties know the relevant dates they are required to adhere to. For context, when a formal Bill of Costs is served by the receiving party, with an N252 will be served. This gives the date for which Points of Dispute are required to be served, which in general is 21 clear days following the date of service. The paying party is permitted to request an extension of time for this, and it is at the discretion of the receiving party to grant or deny the same and there are consequences for failure to comply. Whilst the Rules state that replies to points of dispute must be filed within 21 days of receipt of the points of dispute, there is no sanction for failure to comply. Therefore there is less risk to a receiving party which serves its Replies out of time, however it is possible for the court to impose a sanction (though this is not automatic). CPR 47.13 stipulates that the receiving party may reply to the points of dispute and the receiving party may do so within 21 days. This was supported in Pipe v Electrothermal Engineering Limited where it was confirmed that the receiving party is not limited to 21 days to respond.

The main differences between the paying and receiving party are as follows: should the paying party fail to serve points of dispute within the 21 days, there could be cost implications and the receiving party would be permitted to apply to the court for a Default Costs Certificate, which is an order that the costs claimed by the receiving party be paid in full (effectively a Default Judgment in costs). Whilst it may be possible to apply to set a Default Costs Certificate aside, there is inevitably a risk that the application will not be granted and it is likely that there will be a costs sanction to the receiving party even if it is.

In summary, parties should always follow Precedent G; always ensure points and replies are short and to the point. When undertaking costs proceedings, always be aware of the deadlines and dates to adhere to ensure you are not subjecting your client to unnecessary costs.

THE NEW TEST OF PROPORTIONALITY – 66% REDUCTION!

 

The recent case of Rezek-Clarke -v- Moorfields Eye Hospital is another example of how the new test of proportionality is being applied and the impact it is having on the receiving parties’ claims for costs.

This case related to a low value medical negligence claim.  The Claimant instructed his solicitors on 31 July 2013 and letters of claim were sent to the proposed Defendants on 20 June 2014. The Defendant admitted liability on 14 November 2014, but denied causation.  Proceedings were issued against the Defendant on 1 October 2014 (mainly due to impending limitation issues).

The claim, at best, was worth £5,000.00 and was compromised on 8 July 2015 for £3,250.00.

On 29 October 2015, the Claimant’s solicitors commenced Detailed Assessment Proceedings.  The bill of costs for detailed assessment totalled £72,320.85.  The matter proceeded to a Provisional Assessment before Master Simons on 21 July 2016, where he assessed the bill and reduced this to £24,604.40. On 24 August 2016, the Claimant requested an oral hearing in relation to the provisional assessment and that oral assessment took place on 10 January 2017.

The judgment dealt solely with the issues of proportionality and the ATE insurance premium. The Master did make some increases (to other items within the bill of costs) to what he originally allowed on Provisional Assessment, however, these other items/issues that were heard at the oral hearing did not form part of the judgment.

The key points which arose from the judgment are as follows:

Proportionality

At paragraph 19 the Master referred to the well-known case of Jefferson -v- National Freight Carriers Plc [2001] EWCA Civ 2082 where HHJ Bolton said the following:

“In modern litigation, with the emphasis on proportionality, it is necessary for parties to make an assessment at the outset of the likely value of the claim and its importance and complexity, and then to plan in advance the necessary work, the appropriate level of person to carry out the work, the overall time which will be necessary and appropriate to spend on the various stages in bringing the action to trial, and the likely overall cost. While it is not unusual for costs to exceed the amount in issue, it is, in the context of modern litigation such as the present case, one reason for seeking to kerb the amount of work done, and the cost by reference to the need for proportionality”.

Master Simons, in his judgment, seemed to be critical of the Claimant’s solicitors inability to be able to produce any evidence to support any case planning or consideration regarding the appropriate costs to be incurred (taking into account the fact that the claim was always going to be of a low value).  Looking at this point from a practical perspective, it seems logical for any Claimant solicitor, as a matter of course, to produce a case plan from the outset of a case together with a skeleton costs budget.  Documentation (evidence) of this nature could prove invaluable when trying to demonstrate to a Master or Costs Judge that case planning and consideration did take place. In the absence of such evidence the receiving party could be left in a more vulnerable position, particularly in low value claims where costs are globally disproportionate.

Furthermore, Master Simons ruled that the new test for proportionality does apply to liabilities incurred post 1 April 2013. In this case the ATE insurance premium was one which is still allowed under the Recovery of Costs Insurance Premiums in Clinical Negligence Proceedings (No. 2) Regulations 2013). This contradicts the decisions of Master Rowley in King v Basildon and of Master Brown in Murrells v Cambridge University. However, it is consistent with the decision of Master Saker in BNM v MGN.

What is abundantly clear is there is disagreement at the Senior Court Costs Office as to the application of the new test of proportionality in relation to post 1 April 2013 additional liabilities and clarity is required to ensure that any confusion is avoided.

ATE Insurance Premium

The ATE premium totalled £31,976.49. On Provisional Assessment, the Master reduced the premium to £2,120.00 (a reduction of circa. 93%).  This was reduced on the basis of proportionality.

The Claimant’s solicitors made the usual submissions in relation to ATE premiums and relied on the well-known case of Rogers v Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. However, Master Simons ruled that the case was distinguishable from ‘Rogers’ as ‘Rogers’ was decided pre-LASPO.  Paragraph 64 of the Judgment is useful to read in relation to this point, but essentially it explains that the test of proportionality was fundamentally different when the ‘Rogers’ case was decided. In ‘Rogers’ the Court concluded that if it was necessary to incur an ATE insurance premium, then it should be adjudged a proportionate expense.  However, now proportionality trumps necessity.  No doubt the ATE insurance market had some tears in their eyes when they read this paragraph of the judgment as it will no doubt cause challenges to those ATE insurance premiums which remain in the system.

Another interesting point made was at paragraph 67 of the judgment where the Master made a comment in relation to the calculation of an ATE insurance premium:

“……As the premium is deferred, surely the basis of calculation should be on the reasonable amount of the fees for the medical reports, not the actual cost…….”.

The Master therefore felt that the premium should be calculated taking into account the amount allowed on assessment and not the claimed amount.  I suspect such an approach would receive some real opposition from the ATE insurance market, as ATE insurers pay the claimed amount to experts if the claim fails.

Another interesting point is made further on in paragraph 67:

“……Furthermore, it is often the case that the fee claimed for a medical report includes the fee charged by a medical agency.  I query whether any attempt is made by solicitors or the insurers when calculating the premium, to distinguish between the actual cost of the report and the fee paid to the medical agency……”.

Clearly, for those acting for paying parties, there are some useful questions and points to raise in relation to post 1 April 2013 ATE insurance premiums following this judgment.

Preparation of the bill of costs

A separate point raised in the submissions regarding the ATE insurance premium was the calculation of the premium and in turn, the preparation of the bill of costs.  This was quite a serious point and demonstrates the importance of preparing accurate bills of costs for detailed assessment.  The premium was claimed at £31,976.49, but during the oral detailed assessment hearing, the receiving party explained that the premium had been calculated incorrectly, and that the correct amount was £22,255.23.  However, the Claimant could not provide an explanation regarding why there had been an error in the calculation and (more importantly), why the bill of costs had been certified as accurate and true when it contained such a substantial error (the error being £9,721.26).

This did seem to trouble the Master and paragraphs 61, 62 and 63 are useful to read in this regard.  The Master raised concerns regarding the lack of evidence that had been provided to support the correct level of the premium. The methodology in calculating the premium at £22,225.23 was based on witness evidence. The only evidence in front of the Master was a Schedule of Insurance which showed a premium of £30,916.50, and therefore the failure to include the correct (or evidence the correct) premium in the bill of costs caused some real prejudice to the Claimant.  At paragraph 63, Master Simons stated that he would have been justified in disallowing the premium in full.

This demonstrates the importance of preparing accurate bills of costs and ensuring that each item is correct before a bill is signed and detailed assessment proceedings are commenced. The premium was claimed incorrectly and even when the error was identified the Claimant failed to explain how the new and correct figure was calculated. This failure could not have helped the Claimant in their submissions that the premium was proportionate or support their arguments that the drastic reduction at provisional assessment was incorrect.

Summary

The real headline point that can be taken from this case is how the courts are approaching the application of the new test of proportionality to additional liabilities. This case further adds to the current confusion as to how the new test of proportionality is to be applied in relation to post 1 April 2013 additional liabilities.  Hopefully, by the end of the year we should have clarity as the Court of Appeal is due to look at the matter at some point in October.  Until then, we should all expect a mixed bag of outcomes (or adjournments) on detailed assessment from the different Masters and Costs Judges all around the country!

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 on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com.

 

Third Party Funding – Regulation or Not?

John Hyde of the Law Society Gazette recently gave a useful update on the issue of statutory regulation in relation to third party litigation funding. You can access his short article by following this link.

I personally think that this is a very interesting topic/debate. As I understand the position, the government is wary of imposing statutory regulation at this moment in time as it is concerned that it could stifle the funders who are currently in the litigation funding marketplace and deter any new entrants. In light of the substantial funding changes post LASPO, it is important not to make any changes which could impact on access to justice. There is currently a voluntary code of conduct in place and optional membership of the Association of Litigation Funders (http://associationoflitigationfunders.com/), but is this enough?

Third party funders can earn substantial amounts from successful cases and therefore surely some form of regulation should be introduced to ensure that both individual and corporate purchasers of third party funding are protected.

What are your thoughts in relation to this topic? Would you regulate the area now or would you give the area time to develop and then look to regulate in due course? My view is the latter.

I await your comments with interest.

 

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay is who a Partner and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding Team at Clarion. Andrew can be contacted on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com

Maximising Recovery: A Focused Mind

How have the Jackson reforms changed the way you approach your client’s claim?

Do you now consider the level of costs that have already been incurred more than you previously did? Do you consider the prospect of recovery before instructing that further expert? What about proportionality?

I have recently been instructed to prepare bills of costs for several different Solicitors, and one common thread through all their files is that their minds have been sharpened to focus on recoverability of the costs being incurred from the paying party, with recoverability encompassing reasonableness, proportionality and necessity. Examples of this are:

A contract dispute where quantum was in the region of £15,000. The Solicitor focused on proportionality. Throughout the file, telephone notes with their client repeatedly showed discussions warning of the risk of the costs becoming disproportionate.

A clinical negligence matter showed a Solicitor explaining to their client that the timing of instructing a medical expert was crucial if the costs were to be recovered. This Solicitor recommended an early ‘without prejudice’ exchange of breach of duty evidence with the Defendant prior to gathering more evidence, explaining that the additional costs may not be recovered if this step was omitted.

An application for Judicial Review showed the Solicitor explaining to their privately paying client the likely costs to be incurred, and the estimated fees of recommended Counsel, giving their client the option to use alternative Counsel should they so wish.

All three examples demonstrated the Solicitors discussing the costs with their client. Having worked in legal costs for over 10 years, this is a major shift in communication that certainly stands out in current times. With the Solicitor increasingly turning to their client for any shortfall in costs recovery, and with Solicitor/Client costs disputes on the rise, it is crucial that a Solicitor’s mind is focused on costs. This emphasis on costs needs to be regularly communicated to clients throughout the case to ensure maximum recoverability of the costs of the work undertaken, be it from the paying party or their client.

If you have any questions or queries in relation this blog please contact Joanne Chase (joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.