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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THIRD PARTY FUNDING – A VIABLE OPTION FOR 21st CENTURY LITIGATION (Part 1)

This series of blog articles will address the increasing viability of third party funding as an alternative to traditional litigation funding methods. It will look at how the law has developed historically and how the Court now approaches third party funding and the potential liability of third party funders.

The first part of this series will explore how the Court’s attitude to third party funding has changed significantly from the 19th through to the 21st Century.

Champerty and Maintenance

The historic position taken by the Court in respect of third party funding was that it was illegal and tortious. Two offences had developed through the common law: champerty and maintenance.

Champerty referred to when a person who did not have a legal interest in the matter provided financial assistance to litigation in order to receive a share of the profits.

Maintenance was the procurement of direct or indirect financial assistance from another in order to carry on, or defend, proceedings without lawful justification (British Cash & Parcel Conveyors v Lamson Store Service Co [1908]).

Therefore, the default position was that such agreements, which would be considered third party funding arrangements today, would be considered illegal, tortious and unenforceable. However, even at the turn of the 20th Century, the courts were willing to find such arrangements enforceable as a matter of public policy. For instance, in insolvency proceedings, which by their very nature meant that one party would need financial assistance in order to carry on or defend proceedings (Seear v Lawson (1880)), the Court found that a third party funding agreement was enforceable.

Abolition

The default position changed with the enactment of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (CLA 1967). S.13 CLA 1967 abolished the offences and torts of champerty and maintenance. S.14 CLA 1967 changed the approach of the test, which now started from the presumption that such agreements were enforceable, unless there was a valid reason as a matter of public policy.

Comment

Statutory intervention was important to provide additional certainty and security to parties wishing to enter into third party funding arrangements. However, such an approach cannot be taken for granted outside of the jurisdiction of England and Wales.

Recently, the Supreme Court in Ireland, in the matter of Persona Digital Telephony Ltd v The Minister for Public Enterprise (2017), found a third party funding agreement to be unlawful. This is because the offences of Champerty and Maintenance have not been abolished by statute In Ireland. The Court felt that it is consequentially bound to find such agreements unlawful and that any change of approach was within the remit of the Legislator, not the Judiciary.

In the next part of the series…

The next blog will take a look at how the Court has begun to develop the law in respect of third party funding, with a look at the decision in Factortame Ltd v Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions No.8 [2002].

This blog was prepared by Kris Kilsby who is an Associate Costs Lawyer at Clarion and part of the Costs Litigation Funding Team.  Kris can be contacted at kris.kilsby@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 227 3628.

 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

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.

 

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.

 

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

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.