Court of Protection Costs – What happens after the death of P?

Upon the death of the Protected Party, the Deputy’s authority under the First General Order seizes with immediate effect. Once the matter is transferred to the Executors of the Estate, the Deputy can agree their costs directly without a need for assessment, if possible, which will generally save the Protected Party money overall, without the need for the assessment process. If this is not possible, it may be necessary to apply to the Court for the costs to be assessed.

The interim work and the costs of the Deputy bringing the matter to a conclusion following the death of the Protected Party have been questioned over the years, as there has been very little guidance on this issue. In many cases, there is reasonable and necessary work involved in preparing the case for the Executor to thereafter deal with the Estate, however, what is a reasonable sum for this work?

Following correspondence with the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO), the following change has been made to the assessment procedure with immediate effect. The SCCO may now allow ‘reasonable costs’ (post death of the Protected Party) in order that the Deputy can finalise his/her involvement in the matter. The SCCO have indicated that such costs should not be expected to exceed £1,500.00 +VAT.

As a result, where it appears that the post-death profit costs exceed £1,500.00 +VAT, the Deputy will require the authority to assess that part of the Bill of Costs. Costs below this amount are likely to be deemed reasonable on assessment but are, of course, subject to the usual assessment process and will be allowed based on what was reasonable, necessary and proportionate in the circumstances.

If you have any queries relating to post-death costs in Court of Protection cases, please do not hesitate to contact Stephanie Kaye.

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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.

Increase in Court of Protection Fixed Fees

Fixed Fees in the Court of Protection have increased, further to amendments to Practice Direction (19)B.

There have not been any significant amendments to the Court of Protection Rules which govern the practice and procedure in the Court of Protection since their introduction in 2007. In many people’s opinion, the update is long overdue.

The amendments have been made to strengthen the Court of Protection’s powers to deal with the current challenges, particularly the increase in caseloads and complexity of cases. The increase to Fixed Fees may encourage some financial Deputy’s to follow this route instead of having their costs assessed, which would ultimately free up some of the Senior Courts Cost Office’s capacity to assess bills and bring clarity and consistency to the costs assessment process, as Court of Protection cases continue to rise.

Please see below the revised fixed fees in the Court of Protection:

  Original Fixed Fees (plus VAT) Amended Fixed Fees (plus VAT)
Appointment of Financial and Property Deputy £850.00 £950.00
Appointment of Health and Welfare Deputy £500.00 £555.00
Appointment of a Trustee £385.00 £500.00
First General Management Year £1,500.00 £1,670.00
General Management for the Second Management and Subsequent management years £1,185.00 £1,320.00
Preparation of the Deputyship Report £235.00 £265.00
Preparation of a Basic HMRC income tax return £235.00 £250.00
Preparation of a Complex HMRC income tax return (NEW) N/A £600.00
Conveyancing Minimum sum
of £350 and a maximum sum of £1,500, plus disbursements.
Minimum sum of £400.00 and a maximum sum of £1,670.00, plus VAT and disbursements.
Interim Payments Bill up to 60% of the WIP incurred per annum (20% per quarter). Bill up to 75% or the WIP incurred per annum (25% per quarter).

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

PROPORTIONALITY HITS FAMILY LAW

I have previously posted blogs on the topic of proportionality (Who needs fixed costs! and Proportionality continues to get tougher) and made the comment that it would be interesting to see how the area and application of proportionality develops.

Recently we have seen proportionality develop in the area of Family Law.  In the case of Kay v Kay [2016] EWHC 2002 (Fam) the successful party’s claim for costs was reduced on Summary Assessment from £33,813.00 to £3,737.50.  This was a reduction of approximately 89%.

The Summary Assessment was carried out by Mr Justice Macdonald and he felt that the claim for costs was unreasonable and excessive taking into account the circumstances of the case.  He said the following; “it is remarkable that such a significant sum of money has been spent by these two parents arguing over a single question the answer to which was indisputable from the outset.  The costs incurred in this case were disproportionate to the single issue at hand”.

During the Summary Assessment the Judge reduced items heavily such as hourly rates, attendances upon the client and work done on documents. Interestingly, no schedule (breakdown of time) was attached to the Statement of Costs in relation to the documents work. This no doubt contributed to the significant costs reduction.

The Judge conducted the Summary Assessment by assessing the claims within the statement of costs on a summary basis, which brought the figure of £3,737.50.  What he did not appear to do was assess the costs and then stand back and reduce the costs to what he thought was a proportionate amount.  Clearly, in this case the Judge must have felt comfortable with the ‘end’ amount or when he conducted the summary assessment he applied the tests of reasonableness and proportionality at the same time.  In the cases of Who needs fixed costs! and Proportionality continues to get tougher (both detailed assessments and not summary assessments) both Judges determined what was reasonable and then ‘sat back’ and reduced the claims for costs to what they deemed were proportionate amounts. This is the approach that LJ Jackson set out in his final report at Part 1, chapter 3, paragraph 5.13:

In other words, I propose that in an assessment of costs on the standard basis, proportionality should prevail over reasonableness and the proportionality test should be applied on a global basis. The court should first make an assessment of reasonable costs, having regard to the individual items in the bill, the time reasonably spent on those items and the other factors listed in CPR rule 44.5(3). The court should then stand back and consider whether the total figure is proportionate. If the total figure is not proportionate, the court should make an appropriate reduction. There is already a precedent for this approach in relation to the assessment of legal aid costs in criminal proceedings: see R v Supreme Court Taxing Office ex p John Singh and Co [1997] 1 Costs LR 49.

The case demonstrates that the new test of proportionality is not just limited to the areas of Civil and Commercial Litigation, but equally applies to the area of Family Law.  Effectively, regardless of the area of law, where legal costs are to be assessed pursuant to CPR 44.3(2) then the new test of proportionality (the ‘Jackson’ test) applies.

Finally, this is another example of the Courts tackling disproportionate legal costs and demonstrates that the Court has the tools already to deal with disproportionate claims for costs and that fixed costs are not required.

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

 

Professional Deputy Costs Guidance

You should all now be aware that the Office of the Public Guardian and the SCCO have issued some guidance in respect of Professional Deputy Costs. In summary, here’s what you need to know:

  1. The SCCO Guideline Hourly rates will be allowed, except in exceptional circumstances
  2. Routine tasks such as arranging payments or checking bank statements should be delegated to a Grade D fee earner at best. There are also times when use of a non-fee earner would be considered appropriate
  3. Three minutes will generally be allowed for arranging payments of any kind
  4. One home visit per annum is appropriate, but more may be acceptable dependent on the needs of the case. Excessive contact with all parties should be limited
  5. Work in respect of welfare is not recoverable, without permission from the COP
  6. One senior fee earner will be allowed at investment strategy meetings
  7. File notes must be present to evidence the work carried out
  8. Office overheads ie. Research, perusing incoming correspondences, internal communications and supervision are not recoverable
  9. Three minutes will be allowed for short, routine correspondences
  10. Litigation costs should be appropriately claimed within the litigation proceedings
  11. Grade D rates will be allowed for the preparation of the bill of costs
  12. In hardship cases (net assets below £16,000.00), professional costs must be limited to 4.5% of the Protected Party’s estate per annum
  13. On the client’s death, professional costs should be agreed with the executor of the estate
  14. The OPG105 must be submitted to the SCCO with the bill of costs
  15. Bills of costs should be prepared and submitted on an annual basis

For further information, please go to the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538901/19_07_16_Professional_deputy_costs__FINAL.pdf

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch and we would be more than happy to assist you. Please contact CopCosts@clarionsolicitors.com or call 0113 246 0622.