THIRD PARTY FUNDING – A VIABLE OPTION FOR 21ST CENTURY LITIGATION (Part 2)

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 second part of this series will explore the Court’s first acceptance of third party funding in the matter of Factortame Ltd v Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions No.8 [2002].

Background

This matter related to a challenge brought by Spanish fisherman who sought to claim damages against the Secretary of State for the unlawful prohibition of fishing in UK territorial waters. A firm of accountants agreed with the Claimants to prepare and submit claims for loss or damage as a result of any losses suffered. The Accountants agreed to act in return for 8% of any damages recovered.

The Claimant’s succeeded in their challenge and were awarded damages and costs. On a preliminary issue the agreement was held to be not champertous and could be enforced against the Secretary of State.

The Defendant’s Challenge

The Defendant claimed that such an agreement was champertous and unlawful. It was argued that for an expert to act on a contingency fee basis would give the expert a significant financial interest in the case which is highly undesirable.

Decision

As stated in my previous blog, the tort of champerty had been abolished and the starting point for considering any arrangement was that it would be presumed enforceable unless there was a valid reason as a matter of public policy.

The Accountants had not acted as experts directly in this matter but had instead funded independent experts. Furthermore, by the time that they were instructed the issue of liability had already been decided.

Therefore, the Court held that such an agreement was not in the circumstances champertous or against public policy.

In the next part of the series…

The next blog will take a look at the liability of third party funders in litigation in the matter of Arkin v Borchard Lines Ltd (nos 2 and 3) [2005] 1 WLR 3055.


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.

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Success Fees and ATE Premiums post-LASPO – HH Law v Herbert Law Limited – Court of Appeal decision

The case of HH Law Limited v Herbert [2019] EWCA Civ 527

Background

This is a matter that was subject to a further appeal following the original appeal heard in March 2018. My colleague, Andrew McAulay, has prepared a useful summary of the outcome of that appeal and the background to the dispute which I will not repeat here.

Costs proceedings

In the subsequent appeal, HH Law (HH) sought to appeal two main areas; the reduction in the success fee, and the finding that the ATE Premium was a disbursement.

The Success Fee

The first ground of appeal put forward by HH was that, in a solicitor/client assessment, costs would be considered reasonably incurred and reasonable in amount if there had been express or implied approval by the client (CPR 46.9(3)). HH were able to successfully show that the documents provided to the client provided a ‘clear and comprehensive account of her exposure to the success fee and HH’s fees generally’.

However, it was under CPR 46.9(4) whereby the Court held that a success fee of 100% on the circumstances was unusual in both nature and amount. The Court of Appeal stated that the approach to calculating a success fee was to base it upon the solicitor’s perception of litigation risk at the time the agreement was made.

HH contended, within a witness statement, that it was a fundamental part of their business model to set the success fee on all cases at 100% irrespective of the litigation risk, and that such a business model was prevalent across the industry following the changes introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act 2013 (LASPO). The Court of Appeal dismissed this approach and stated that there had been insufficient information provided to the client to ensure that informed consent was achieved in respect of the basis of setting the success fee at 100% for all cases irrespective of risk. The success fee was, therefore, held at 15%.

Comment: This may be considered an alarming result in the grand scheme of things and could lead to an increase in solicitor/client challenges to the level of success fee deducted from damages.

However, there is a simple solution to these challenges. The judgment firmly establishes that success fees should be calculated based upon the litigation risk at the date the agreement was entered. It is therefore essential to carry out a risk assessment when entering into the CFA.

The ATE Premium

HH had incurred the costs of the ATE premium and deducted it directly from the firm’s client account. Ms Herbert had contended that the premium was a disbursement and, therefore, could be challenged under a solicitor/client assessment. The Court carefully considered the definitions of what a solicitors’ disbursement was

‘a disbursement qualifies as a solicitors’ disbursement if either (1) it is a payment which the solicitor is, as such, obliged to make whether or not put in funds by the client, such as court fees, counsel’s fees, and witnesses’ expenses, or (2) there is a custom of the profession that the particular disbursement is properly treated as included in the bill as a solicitors’ disbursement’.

The Court came to the conclusion that an ATE premium did not fall within either definition, and that HH had been acting as an agent of the client when paying the ATE premium.

Comment: It was noted that the consequence of this finding would significantly reduce a client’s ability to challenge the amount of ATE premiums in future, and obiter, it was suggested that steps could be taken to bring ATE premiums within the definition of disbursements in future.

We still have places available at our next Costs and Litigation Funding Masterclass on 16 May 2019. https://lnkd.in/d33uy9e

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.

 

Hourly Rates – How far can you depart from the Guideline Hourly Rates?

The case of Sir Philip Green & Ors v Telegraph Media Group Limited [2019] EWHC 96 (QB)

Background

This matter revolved around the Claimant and two companies seeking an injunction against the Defendant to restrain them from publishing information about the Claimant. The information related to the alleged misconduct of the Claimants which had been subject to non-disclosure agreements.

A number of pre-trial applications were addressed by Warby J, including the issue of costs budgeting . Given the time-sensitive nature of proceedings, the issue of costs budgeting could only be addressed two weeks before trial.

The hourly rates claimed by the Claimant’s City of London-based solicitors ranged from £190 (for a Grade D trainee) to £690 (for a Grade A lawyer – a Partner). Other Partners’ rates claimed by the Claimants were between £510 and £635 per hour. Warby J noted that all these figures were well in excess of the guideline rates, which are £126 for Grade D and £409 for Grade A (emphasis added).

Warby J recognised that, due to the late stage of costs budgeting, the majority of costs were incurred, and as such he was restricted from budgeting incurred costs due to CPR PD 3E 7.4, and was limited to only making comments.

Warby J said he did not consider that hourly rates of more than £550 could be justified, and proportionate reductions should also be made to the lower Partners’ rates.

The Judge added: ‘Of course, fees in excess of the guidelines can be and often are allowed, and in this case the defendants (who themselves claim up to £450 per hour) and I both accept that fees above those rates are justified. But not to the extent of the differences here.’

Comment

The outcome of this hearing raises two interesting topics for discussion: the level of hourly rates in general, and, the approach the Court can take in respect of hourly rates in costs management.

Hourly rates in general

As a starting point, and as referenced by Warby J indirectly, it is well accepted that Guideline Hourly Rates are just that, a guideline. They are suitable for carrying out a summary assessment and can be a starting position for detailed assessment. Following this , the Court will take into account both CPR 44.3(5), and the 8 ‘pillars of wisdom’ contained within CPR 44.4(3), when considering whether costs are proportionate and reasonable in amount (when assessing on the standard basis). These factors can be used to support an enhancement, for instance, given the complexity of the matter, or the conduct of parties.

The Court has recently commented further on a case which claimed very high hourly rates, far in excess of the Guideline Hourly Rates. In the matter of Dana Gas PJSC v Dana Gas Sukuk Ltd & Ors [2018] EWHC 332 (Comm), the Court found that hourly rates in excess of £900 were unreasonable, even in a matter which was factually/legally complex, had an international element and was of significant value. The Court considered that hourly rates of half that amount (hence being very similar to the rates referred to as reasonable by Warby J in the case of Sir Philip Green & Ors v Telegraph Media Group Limited [2019] EWHC 96 (QB)), were considered more reasonable to obtain competent representation in such a case.

There is technically no limit on the hourly rates which can be charged by a firm of solicitors, so long as the client agrees to pay them, but the Court is now taking a much tougher stance in respect of how much of that hourly rate can be recovered inter partes. This leaves the firm in an unenviable position: either write off those costs claimed, or, bill the client for the shortfall.

Perhaps this was a factor in Sir Philip deciding to abandon the claim?

Budgeting

It is well established that the Court must walk a tightrope when addressing hourly rates while setting a budget. The Court can have regard to the constituent elements of the budget, including hourly rates (CPR PD 3E 7.3), but the Court must not over step the mark and proceed to fix or approve hourly rates (CPR PD 3E 7.10). Warby J’s comments appear to strike the right balance between the two. Unfortunately, shortly after the hearing, the Claimants abandoned the claim, and we will therefore not see at detailed assessment stage how much weight is given to comments made at costs management stage.

The interplay between hourly rates, costs budgeting and detailed assessment is an interesting one, and a topic which will, no doubt, continue to develop as more and more budgeted cases proceed to detailed assessment.


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.

 

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.