Court of Protection denies Official Solicitor the recovery of costs

“In 2017, the NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group launched what were intended to be four test cases seeking clarification of the law concerning the deprivation of liberty of mentally incapacitated adults. For various reasons, however, all of those applications, or in some cases that part of the application relating to the deprivation of liberty issue, were withdrawn, but not before the Official Solicitor had agreed to act for two of the respondents with the benefit of publicly-funded certificates and had incurred some legal costs. Subsequently, the Official Solicitor has applied for all or part of those costs to be paid by the applicant.” [2018] EWCOP 7 (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2018/7.html)

This is the opening of the judgement delivered by Mr Justice Baker before rejecting the application by the Official Solicitor to recover the costs incurred in dealing with the test cases that were eventually dropped in relation to the Deprivation of Liberty of mentally incapacitated adults.

The four test cases mentioned were to seek clarification on whether mentally incapacitated adults whom lived at home with care plans devised and administered by the applicant, were being deprived of their liberty. In each application the applicant sought a declaration from the Court of Protection that the respondent was not being deprived of their liberty.

In respect of two of the four cases the Official Solicitor declined to accept the invitation, that by reason of their means, they did not qualify for public funding. It was considered not appropriate to utilise their own funds to support a test case and therefore it was agreed these two cases would be stayed. In respect of the remaining two respondents who qualified for public funding, the application continued. Inter-party discussions led to the Official Solicitor withdrawing the applications for declarations and instead sought consequential directions in all four cases.

The grounds for withdrawal were; reconsideration in light of the Official Solicitor’s analysis, difficulties and delays meant only one of the four cases was capable of proceeding on the preliminary issues and the recent publication by the Law Commission reduced the justification of the declaration sought.

The two publicly funded cases, by this point had amounted costs of approximately £30,000.00. The Official Solicitor applied for all or part of the costs accrued to be the responsibility of the applicant by arguing that the case should not have been viewed as a typical welfare case but more as a civil claim. For various reasons, this was rejected.

When considering the Applicants conduct in the matter, it was successfully pointed out that three of the four test cases were unsuitable to be included from the outset which should have been identified. The remaining test case was not pursued due to the ineligibility of public funding, it was viewed by the Court that the applicant should have funded the matter. The Law Commission’s report in which the Official Solicitor relied upon when responding to the application was published prior to the case management hearing so the outcome of the Official Solicitors response should have been reasonably considered. Thus, rendering the costs incurred by the Official Solicitor in responding for the most part as unnecessary.

In response, the Applicant submitted that the application was in good public interest due to the uncertainty of the area of law in respect of the Cheshire West’s “Acid Test”, that withdrawing the application was justified due to the lack of a “sufficiently broad range of facts to give the applicant sufficient guidance to the 100+ incapacitated adults for whom it is responsible for providing healthcare services at home” and the budget constraints which made funding the application without public assistance unattainable.

It was concluded that a costs order against the applicant in this matter was inappropriate save as to those of the Official Solicitor’s costs that were publicly funded.

Bridie Sanderson is a Paralegal in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department.

You can contact Bridie on 0113 336 3350, or alternatively email at bridie.Sanderson@clarionsolicitors.com

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Getting paid properly – Costs Estimates

Costs Estimates

Why provide an estimate of costs to your client in respect to their legal claim?

It keeps your client informed and therefore there are no surprises, this in turn manages your client’s expectation. This helps to avoid any dispute regarding the level of fees.

However, there is also the techy but important part!

Failure to provide information about costs and funding options for litigation is a breach of the Solicitors Regulation Authority Code of Conduct 2011 (SRA Code 2011),  your obligations are to “clearly explain your fees and if and when they are likely to change”.

Consequently, keep your estimate up to date, monitor the estimate and advise the client if the estimate requires changing – prospective thinking is the key.

The estimate must be clear and concise, must be worded in a way that is appropriate for the client and must be given in writing and regularly updated. The client should be provided with a detailed estimate, not just a ball park figure.

A solicitor is required to undertake a cost benefit analysis. The Code’s requirement in Rule 2.03 (6) is that “a solicitor discusses with their client whether the likely outcome in a matter will justify the expense or risk involved, including, if relevant, the risk of having to bear an opponent’s costs”.

It is essential that the cost-benefit analysis must be kept under review throughout the matter and reviewed with the client at key stages.

What is the impact of not providing an estimate?

Your client may argue that they would have given different instructions/or not proceeded with the matter if they had known: how expensive the claim would be, the length of time it would take, the level of their legal costs that would be recoverable from the other side and also their liability for the other side’s costs.

What if the client asks you to undertake out of scope work?

Explain that the estimate does not cover the additional work and provide a further estimate of the additional work. Advise the client if there is any risk that this work may not be deemed recoverable from the other-side. Failure to do so may result in those additional costs being disallowed.

Is a solicitor bound by their estimate?

Sort of!

If the client requests an assessment of their costs in accordance with the Solicitors Act, the estimate may be used as a “yardstick to measure reasonableness”. Any estimates that have been exceeded because they are simply wrong will be taken into account, together with the circumstances surrounding it, i.e. the reliance the client placed on the estimate and costs reduced accordingly.

Always provide a realistic estimate

Keep your estimate realistic at the outset. Even regular updating might not subsequently save a bad original estimate. The court’s view is that the first estimate is a critical piece of information for a client’s decision whether or not to embark on the action.

The Code’s requirements are for “best” information to be provided about costs. Therefore providing low estimates are unlikely to comply with the SRA Code of Conduct.

IN SUMMARY

Always provide a detailed estimate of costs.

Prepare a realistic estimate of costs.

Monitor the estimate and revisit with client throughout – costs/benefit analysis.

Identify and advise regarding out of scope work.

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.

 

Case Management Refresher

Cost estimates are necessary for fast track claims when the fixed costs regime is not applicable and for non-budgeted cases

In accordance with CPR 28 PD6.1 (4), a cost estimate is required to be filed and served at the same time as the pre-trial check list.  It is stated on the pre-trial checklist (N170) that ‘for legal representatives only: a cost estimate to be filed and served at the same time as the pre-trial check list is filed‘.  Therefore, for all fast track claims where there is not a fixed costs regime in place then a costs estimates should be filed. Furthermore, for non-budgeted multitrack claims a costs estimate should be filed.  What is particularly interesting is that this captures those claims that are not automatically included in the costs management regime, e.g. claims over £10m.

Case management conferences and indemnity basis costs

In accordance with CPR 26 PD 6.6, the court can impose a costs sanction where a party has failed to file a directions questionnaire or failed to provide further information which the court has ordered.  The court will usually order a party to pay on the indemnity basis the costs of any other party who has attended the hearing, summarily assess the amount of those costs, and order them to be paid forthwith or within a stated period.

Disposal hearings

In accordance with CPR 26 PD 12.5(2), Section VI of Part 45 (fast track trial costs) will not apply to a case dealt with at a disposal hearing whatever the financial value of the claim. So, the costs of a disposal hearing will be in the discretion of the court.

Any questions? Please contact Sue at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com or call  on 0113 336 3389

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.

 

 

Proactive Costs Recovery – Thinking Ahead

The traditional approach to costs recovery has been to prepare a statement of costs for trial, perhaps convert it into a without prejudice schedule of costs for negotiation and, when all else fails, instruct your costs specialist to prepare a formal bill of costs and commence detailed assessment proceedings. Unsurprisingly, this whole process can take many months and, if the paying party are unwilling to make a payment on account of costs, it can cause difficulties with cash flow. This is particularly noticeable for firms with a large caseload.

The tide, however, has started to turn and we are receiving an increasing number of instructions to prepare a skeleton bill of costs in readiness for a JSM. This proactive approach means that your costs are summarised and presented to the opponent on an occasion where, hopefully, they have the appetite for negotiation and therefore there is a realistic chance that both damages and costs can be concluded in one go.

For matters subject to costs management, it is essential that the costs are presented in accordance with precedent H phases to enable the paying party insight into whether there has been any over spend in a particular phase. Costs that fall outside costs management should be isolated and thought should be given to good reasons for departure from the budget if there has been an overspend. This will equip you with the information required to try and persuade the opponent to reach an agreement on costs and avoid the costs associated with detailed assessment.

And, of course, if you are unable to settle your costs then the skeleton bill can be updated and converted into a formal bill of costs in readiness to commence detailed assessment proceedings.

Those clients who adopt a proactive approach to costs recovery are reducing the amount of time it takes to conclude costs negotiations and, ultimately, for the money to reach their bank account. They, wisely, think about the costs aspect of their case in tandem with their client’s claim and they reserve their Costs Lawyer well in advance of the JSM.

Joanne Chase is a Senior Associate Costs Lawyer in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

Partial strike out of the budget – Page v RGC Restaurants Ltd !

Partial strike out of the budget in the case of Page v RGC Restaurants Ltd !

Be wary when preparing budgets, do NOT prepare a budget up until a particular stage, unless the court orders otherwise. In this case, the Claimant had decided to prepare their budget up until the PTR stage only, the Master found that they had not complied with the CPR and limited the budget to court fees only. The Claimant appealed the decision on the grounds that a budget had been filed, questioning the Master’s irrational approach of limiting the budget to court fees, claiming that CPR 3.15 (the fact that the parties had agreed the Claimant’s budget up to the PTR stage) trumps the sanctions imposed by CPR 3.14 and submitting that the default sanction should be dis-applied. 

On appeal, the Master found that this was partial non-compliance rather than full non-compliance. So rather than striking the full budget out, the court struck out those phases of the budget where forecast costs had not been provided.

It has to be said, the preparation of partial budgets makes assessing proportionality impossible, which is an essential part of costs management. 

In practical terms, this is important for split trials. My advice has always been NEVER to prepare a budget up to the first trial, unless the court orders otherwise as there is the risk that the court will deem this to be non-compliant and the budget may be reduced to court fees. We now have case law which provides guidance regarding the approach to be adopted, which is helpful.  

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.