Lockdown Lowdown- Master Haworth

This blog forms part of a series of weekly interviews with several professionals during lockdown. It aims to inform Deputies and their teams about how each organisation within the field of Court of Protection has adapted to Covid-19. Our second participant for Lockdown Lowdown is Master Peter Haworth from the Senior Courts Costs Office.

  • How has the SCCO adapted to lockdown?

I originally thought we wouldn’t cope very well at all, and thought we would lock up shop at the SCCO, but that hasn’t happened. It’s not just skeleton staff, but staff working from home and a team in the office on a very detailed rota. We have a dedicated COP team of at least 5 people in today and 6 people in tomorrow, so we are finding ways to continue whilst respecting social distancing. We have managed to obtain laptops which have been given to Costs Officers so, in addition to the team in the office, Costs Officers are dealing with work at home. We have 8 Costs Officers and all 8 of them are working, be it remotely or from the office and the people in the high risk category are having work delivered to them as opposed to collecting it themselves. The team really have worked hard to adapt and I’m tremendously proud of them. The judiciary are also getting on surprisingly well in lockdown. We’ve had a number of Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls which have been very successful, and it seems that the judiciary has moved on 50 years in 2 weeks. I don’t think we will ever go back to ‘normal’ and I suspect that, going forward, we will continue to work in this way wherever it is appropriate to do so. The Senior Costs Judge doesn’t want things to grind to a halt so, wherever possible, we are dealing with things via Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. I’ve had 2 full-day hearings for two substantial costs matters and it works well. I’m fixing more Microsoft Teams meeting where I hope to take live evidence, which is something that I would not have thought possible. With COP work, one of the benefits of the e-filing system that was introduced in January is that I can access this sitting at home, pick up cases and deal with them without too much difficulty. Where I need papers, the majority are being sent to me via the local County Court using DX and I pick them up from there. Also, in COP, I have had a couple of Costs Officers who have said that provisional assessments have not been accepted, and the solicitors have requested an oral hearing, so I’ve been able to simply access the file using the e-file system and list them without delay. The Costs Masters meet virtually on a Friday morning to discuss work loads too, which is useful. We’ve had one Master off ill, but others have picked up the work in his absence. I thought it might be a prolonged holiday for us all but that’s not happened!

  • What impact do you think this will have on turnaround?

You won’t believe this but, whilst I’ve parroted on, I’ve had an email with an update so I have the exact figures, hot off the press for you! As of the 27th of April 2020, straight from the horse’s mouth, we have 656 cases in the office up to 7 weeks old, awaiting assessment. We have a further 257 waiting for supporting papers from the solicitors which have been e-filed and accepted and a further 464 in the e-filing queue waiting to be processed by the e-filing team. Essentially, we have a backlog of 1,200 cases. I’m not holding anything back from you, so hopefully you can appreciate the full picture. We have one Costs Officer who has been ill and there are 10 cases awaiting collection from them. In addition, we have 195 Final Costs Certificates waiting to be authorised, which are being prioritised at the moment above the assessments. We are in a position to deal with things at home, but the bottleneck is the admin team processing the e-filing. We are working with a 50% admin team in the office due to social distancing measures, so that is where the difficulty lies in the administration of all of those cases. I would hope that, once the rules are relaxed, we will have a full team in the office again. We have seen turnaround a lot worse than this, but I appreciate even more so as a former solicitor that cash flow is king, and I’m the first to understand that. If there is anything we can do to push this through, we will. E-filing proved to be a lot more complicated than anticipated and it has slowed things down, for which I sincerely apologise on behalf of the office.

  • Has the SCCO learnt anything so far from the pandemic?

We can work virtually and electronically, rather than with high chairs and quill pens! We will have to put it all together when we get back to normality and find a new way of working. I think that the lockdown experience will provide more benefits in the years to come and, to my mind, we will move forward a lot quicker now. The majority of firms don’t work with paper files anymore so, as night follows day, it must mean electronic files move up the queue for COP, but I don’t know what the timescales are for that. We have trialled this and the Costs Officers were happy to access the solicitors’ system to carry out the assessment but, for this to be successful, there will have to be protocols and security measures. Provided we can meet those, it will move forward. There is also the electronic bill which you know about (Stephanie Kaye and Andrew McAulay are part of the committee preparing a COP electronic bill). COP will not need the same level of complexity as the current electronic bill for inter partes work, so I would hope to see an electronic bill in motion by the end of this year, or early next year and the the rest will follow. So many questions will be up for grabs and only time will tell, but I’m sure the real impact will be known when we get back. It will push us out of the Victorian times and move us into the 21st century.

  • Have there been any regular issues with e-filing that Deputies should be aware of?

The hiccups have been loading it all up in the first place. With no electronic bill, it’s having to be scanned into the system and a paper copy prepared for assessment, then scanned back out to the solicitor. All the extra admin had meant that the bottleneck was even worse. Although the bill will have to be scanned to obtain a copy, the Costs Officers are sending a paper copy back to the solicitor after assessment and, from that point in time, the solicitor can electronically obtain the Final Costs Certificate. I hope this will solve some of the issues but this will be an ongoing problem, until the introduction of the electronic bill. From my own experience, the electronic bill is so much easier and it will speed up the process considerably in COP cases.

  • Is the SCCO still available by telephone?

Yes, they are answering the phone. You might have to wait a little bit longer due to fewer people in the office, but there are Cost Officers and Clerks available. If they can’t answer the query, they will email the Master who might email the representatives directly, which is speeding things up. Providing they are accredited legal representatives and not parties, I am more than happy to work in this way, as are my colleagues.

  • We’ve already touched on this, but do you think there will be a move to electronic files of papers for assessment in the future?

Yes. This is not in the public domain, but all I can say is that there is some movement towards a sort of ‘bundle bank’, which would mean that the SCCO is able to access an electronic bundle to carry out an assessment, rather than interrogating the solicitor’s system, which has been trialled already. That’s something that is being considered, and I’m sure lockdown will accelerate moves to electronic working.

  • The MOJ invited the panel of professionals last year to comment on several areas, including consistency of reductions on assessments. Is it likely that the SCCO will update its guidance for Costs Officers and professional Deputies to help with more consistent assessments?

We will wait and see what the responses are from the MOJ on that point. We can then take a fresh look at the guide knowing the full picture. Obviously, any move to the electronic bill or electronic files of papers will mean that the guide is updated too. It will be a work in progress.

  • What is the plan for your retirement?

I’ve done COP work in practice for many years. In 2006, I joined the SCCO and I couldn’t have been handed this work any quicker. I’ve worked almost exclusively from 2006 until last year or the year before on COP. Master James and Master Whalan will deal with COP after I retire. I think the senior judges would like all costs judges to deal with every aspect but in my mind, COP is specialist and you have to know what you’re doing, so I think it’s best kept with 2 or 3 judges. As for my retirement, I had planned to go on the 30th of September but in light of the current situation, I may find myself here until Christmas. The plan is to do more of what I enjoy, including sailing and hot air ballooning. A lot of my ballooning is abroad so I suspect even after lockdown, there will be difficulties with this. I might have to stay in the UK, although it’s tremendously difficult to fly a balloon in British weather! In 2021, I plan to take part in a balloon event across the English channel. I’ve done it once and I’d like to do it again – it’s much quicker than the ferry!

  • How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?

I felt that staying in a flat in London wouldn’t be ideal so I’ve come back up north. I’ve spent more time with Mrs Haworth than I have in the last 15 years! The north is a pretty part of the world so, when I haven’t been working, I’ve been out walking or doing things in the garden, albeit my work in the garden mainly involves supervising Mrs Haworth!

  • What are you most looking forward to after lockdown?

Meeting friends and going to the pub!!

Clarion would like to thank Master Haworth for taking part in Lockdown Lowdown. He and the SCCO continue to work extremely hard to service Court of Protection Costs work during this time. Coming up in the series, we will be hearing from Francesca Gardner from Kings Chambers and Ria Baxendale from the OPG. If you would like to suggest another interviewee for Lockdown Lowdown, please contact Stephanie Kaye at stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com or call 0113 336 3402.

 

 

Negotiating Budgets

In cases where costs management applies, how much your client can recover depends on good negotiation at the costs management stage.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of the Costs Management team 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.

New Rules for Damages Based Agreements

In October 2019 proposals to reform the Damages Based Agreement (DBA) Regulations were published. Here I give a brief rundown of what the new proposals mean.

The Law Society has recently published a more detailed analysis of the key points which can be viewed here.

Matthew Rose is a Solicitor in the Clarion Costs Team. You can contact him on 0113 222 3248 or by email to matthew.rose@clarionsolicitors.com.

 

 

Coronavirus Update: Bar Council guidance on attendance at Court

The Bar Council has today given further guidance to its members that advocates should not attend hearings in person unless they are “genuinely urgent” and cannot be done remotely. However, it is anticipated that such a hearing will be a rare occurrence.

My standing advice is that where a hearing is listed, practitioners should contact the court as soon as possible and ask for guidance. I recently wrote to the County Court at Huddersfield and asked what procedures are currently in place; I received a response today stating that “all hearings will be adjourned: you will be contacted before the hearing”.

The situation continues to develop rapidly and therefore it is likely that the position in relation to hearings will change.

Matthew Rose is a solicitor in the Clarion Costs Department. You can contact him on 0113 222 3248 or by email at Matthew.Rose@clarionsolicitors.com.

Coronavirus Update: Attendance at Court and “Key Worker” status

The Bar Council has recently announced new guidance for barristers on attendance at Court and on “Key Worker” status. 

Attending Court

HMCTS has informed the bar council that “listing officers are working urgently to let people know what is happening but a good ‘rule of thumb’ is that if the trial is underway, the default is to attend unless the court tells you otherwise, but if the trial has not started the default is to stay away unless told to attend”.

HMCTS is advising in the Magistrates Court, that ‘it is best to attend if you are expecting to work today’.

In my view, where a hearing of any kind is currently listed, practitioners should keep in regular contact with the court to confirm the status of the hearing. For more information about standing advice in relation to hearings as well as some hints for working from home and dealing with the practicalities of hearings you can view my Coronavirus Update video here posted Friday 20th March 2020:

Up-to-the-minute guidance is available from the Courts on the HMCTS website.

Key worker status updated

The government has acknowledged that legal practitioners are fundamental to the running of the justice system and The Department for Education has just issued further guidance on which legal practitioners come within the limited category of key workers whose children may continue to attend school or nursery whilst they deliver essential services:

  • Advocates (including solicitor advocates) required to appear before a court or tribunal (remotely or in person), including prosecutors;
  • Other legal practitioners required to support the administration of justice including duty solicitors (police station and court) and barristers, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and others who work on imminent or ongoing court or tribunal hearings;
  • Solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills, and
  • Solicitors and barristers advising people living in institutions or deprived of their liberty.

Practitioners are responsible for deciding for themselves whether they fall within these categories.

Clarion continues to be open for business, with some changes in working practices to ensure that the safety of our clients and employees remains our top priority. Matthew Rose is a solicitor and you can contact him on 0113 222 3248 or by email to Matthew.Rose@clarionsolicitors.com

Coronavirus: Working Under Lockdown

Coronavirus has caused widespread disruption. This brief update lets you know the Courts’ current approach, and how you can work effectively under lockdown.

Further information and our newsletter containing an explanation of how to sign documents electronically can be found here

Matthew Rose is a Solicitor in the Costs team. You can contact him on 0113 222 3248. Clarion Solicitors remains open for business as normal, with enhanced processes to ensure the safety of our clients and staff.

 

Delays In Bringing Applications in the Court of Protection

The issue of delays in bringing applications on behalf of P within the Court of Protection was recently outlined in the case Cardiff & Vale University Health Board v P [2020] EWCOP 8

The focus of the case was in reference to the dental treatment for P. P was a severely autistic 17 year old with very little ability to communicate directly.

P was required to undergo a CT scan in January 2019 to ascertain if he required any dental treatment. The CT scan shown that P had sustained decay which had impacted on his wisdom teeth.

Following on from this, P’s parents observed that P began banging his head against a wall in October 2019. They believed this to be a response to the dental pain he was suffering, however P was unable to communicate this directly. As P’s behaviour deteriorated, P’s parents were concerned that P could have been suffering with concussion, or sustained a head injury such as a fractured skull as a result of him banging his head against walls.

A main issue with the case was that the application to Court in respect of P’s requirement of dental treatment was only made on 20th February 2020. In his judgement, Hayden J expressed his concerns at the delays in bringing the application. He stated:

‘This is the second time in the last few months when I have heard a case which reveals that a vulnerable person has fallen through the net the system tries to provide. Here, P has been permitted to suffer avoidably for many months. His needs, it requires to be said, have simply not been met. The philosophy of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 is to enable those who are vulnerable in consequence of incapacity to have equality of opportunity with their capacious co-evals. Here, P’s capacity, his inability to communicate his distress, led to a failure to provide him with appropriate medical treatment’.

P should not have been made to wait several months for an application to be made, particularly given the significant pain he was clearly in, and his inability to communicate the same to anyone.

 

Levels of contact in Court of Protection cases – what is reasonable?

The Case of Trudy Samler 2001 considers the level of costs incurred regarding contact and whether this is reasonable. The case looks into whether these costs are instigated by the Protected Party and whether the Deputy should be expected to be paid for them. Master O’Hare advised that part of the Deputy’s duty is to prevent such expenses being incurred as it is their responsibility to look after the Protected Party’s financial affairs. The Office of the Public Guardian and the Senior Court Costs Office advise that only one home visit per year is reasonable in routine general management costs unless there is reasonable justification for more attendances. Deputies should be prepared to give reason if several attendances have occurred during one management period.

The case concerned a young lady who suffered severe brain injuries who was subsequently awarded substantial damages. A professional Deputy was appointed by the Court to manager her property and financial affairs. The Deputy’s bill of costs was lodged on October 2000 and provisionally assessed by Costs Officer Edwards on 21 November 2000. By way of a letter dated January 2001, the Deputy did not accept the provisional assessment and set out in numbered paragraphs the reasons relied on in support of the restoration of the costs, which had been disallowed on assessment. On 13 February 2001, a hearing took place and some of the reasonable costs were restored. However, the Deputy still felt that some of the other items disallowed could be justified and restored and so by way of a letter dated 23 February 2001, sought the guidance of Mr R Stone at the Public Trust Office.

The letter included five questions to be referred to the Master of the Court of Protection. The appeal related to work done by the Deputy in relation to three interviews with the Protected Party and four meetings at St Andrews Hospital. An allowance had been made for two meetings, which in total were equal to four hours. At the hearing, the Deputy gave background to the matter and explained some of the attendance notes of the meetings that were in question.

The five numbered questions are set out below:

  1. Can the Deputy be paid for speaking to both carers and case managers to talk about the care and rehabilitation regime and the Protected Party’s well being and needs, assuming that the time spent is not excessive?

Master O’Hare advised that in his view, the Deputy can be paid if the issues discussed are substantial, if there is no alternate person to speak for the Protected Party and if the Protected Party’s estate is large enough to justify such expense.

  • Can the Deputy be paid for all contact with the Protected Party instigated by the Protected Party irrespective of the matters being raised?

Master O’Hare advised that his answer would be no. He confirmed that the Deputy should strive to minimise and avoid necessary expense. Master O’Hare further confirmed that he accepts that each case depends on its own circumstances.

  • Can the Deputy be paid for discussions with the family about the care requirements, existing care regimes, possibility for changes in the future?

Master O’Hare confirmed that the answer he gave to question one seemed to be appropriate for this question.

  • Can the Deputy be paid for discussions with the Protected Party, family, carers and case managers where there are difficulties with the care regime if the Deputy believes that the current regime is in the Protected Party’s best interests or would be subject to proper amendment?

Master O’Hare advised that his answer to question one and 3 apply equally here.

  • Can the Deputy be paid for quarterly visits to the Protected Party to deal with reporting on budgeting, asset performance, income and expenditure?

Master O’Hare advised that the practice for many years has been that it is easy for a Deputy to justify one visit to the Protected Party each year but that each succeeding visit must be separately justified. He also confirmed that the questions that usually arise in respect of this are:

  • Could the subject matter of the later visit have been dealt with at the earlier one, or postponed to a later one?
  • Could the progress made by the meeting have been achieved more economically by way of a telephone call or correspondence?
  • Was the Protected Party and his or her family if any (meaning here any adult relatives with whom he or she resides or in whose care he or she is) warned that the costs of such meeting and the costs of time spent travelling and travel expenses, will all be charged?
  • If the meeting involves time spent travelling by the Deputy, could this travel have been arranged so that the cost of it could be apportioned with other cases handled by the Deputy?

Master O’Hare advised that each case depends on its circumstances and with some Protected Party’s, the number of visits in the early months might be higher than the number of visits once a reasonable pattern has been established.

Revising Precedent H Costs Budgets – Don’t delay

Revising Precedent H Costs Budgets

Don’t delay in applying to revise your Costs Budget if a significant development has occurred in your litigation, and on those occasions where there may have been a delay don’t shy away from applying.

It is not left to a party to choose whether to revise its budget and to take its chances on a detailed assessment, parties must apply to revise their budget if there has been a significant development in the litigation – Sharp -v- Blank & Ors [2017] EWHC 3390 (Ch) (21 December 2017) (hereafter Sharp).

In the event that there has been a significant development in the litigation, parties are not able to defer the determination of additional incurred costs to detailed assessment – those incurred costs form part of the request for additional costs:

Master Marsh “I do not consider the rules and practice direction intended that only certain elements of the costs relating to significant developments must be dealt with as revisions with the other elements, those pre-dating the hearing or, on another view those pre-dating the application, being dealt with on a detailed assessment. This approach would run contrary to the purposes of costs management and lead to unnecessary fragmentation of the costs dealt with at a detailed assessment.

Master Marsh found that the costs incurred from the costs management order and up to the application to revise the Cost Budget were not incurred costs for the purpose of the revision, they were future costs. Master Marsh focussed on the language of the CPR referring to the choice of the use of “future” rather than “budgeted costs”, as follows:

The language used in paragraph 7.6 is of critical importance because it provides the jurisdiction, on the defendants’ case to make the revisions they seek. It is notable that the language is at variance with the remainder of the rules and PD3E. It refers throughout to the revision of a “budget” (not, in accordance with the new wording, “budgeted costs”). It is explicit, however, that revision is in respect of future costs. The final sentence of this paragraph gives the court a discretion to approve, vary or disapprove the revisions “… having regard to any significant developments which have occurred since the date when the previous budget was approved or agreed”. On one view, such language points towards the last approved or agreed budget being the jumping off point for a revision because it is the budget that is being revised”.

Master Marsh concluded that the “Costs which have been incurred since the date of the last agreed or approved budget (or the antecedent date) that relate to significant developments are, for the purposes of revision, placed in the estimated columns of the revised Precedent H in one or more phase. In some cases, it may not be obvious where they go (for example a late application for security for costs) but I can see no reason why Precedent H may not be adapted as necessary to accommodate work that does not easily fit in”.

He also considered that there would be a degree of retrospectivity if the costs management regime was to work.

It is essential that you apply to revise your Costs Budget if a significant development has occurred in your litigation, to not do so puts you at risk of not being able to recover any costs that are in excess of your budget.

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.

 

 

THIRD PARTY FUNDING – A VIABLE OPTION FOR 21ST CENTURY LITIGATION (Part 3)

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 third part of this series will explore the liability of third party funders in the matter of Arkin v Borchard Lines Ltd (Nos 2 and 3) [2005] 1 WLR 3055.

Background

This matter related to an unsuccessful action in respect of anti-competitive practices which resulted in the collapse of the Claimant’s company, and which severely affected his finances. The Claimant entered into an agreement with a professional litigation funding company (MPC) to provide funding for the expert evidence and litigation support services for the expert. MPC did not agree to pay any of the Defendants’ costs or to provide finances for an ATE premium due to the significant amount of the premiums available.

The claim was unsuccessful at Trial and the Claimant was ordered to pay the Defendants’ costs. The Defendants’ then sought a non-party cost order against MPC for the entirety of the Defendants’ entitlement to costs. However, this was refused at first instance.

The Defendants subsequently appealed the decision.

Decision

The Court of Appeal considered the balance that needed to be struck between the access to justice provided by third party funding and the general rule that costs should follow the event. It was considered that a funder who purchased a stake in an action should then be protected from all liability of the opposing party’s costs in the event the claim fails.

The Court of Appeal commended the following approach:

‘a professional funder, who finances part of a Claimant’s costs of litigation, should be potentially liable for the costs of the opposing party to the extent of the funding provided’

This has become known as the Arkin cap. This approach has provided clarity and transparency to funders as they can now quantify their liability should the matter fail.

Whilst the cap has been readily adopted by the funding industry, it has also not been without criticism. The main criticism being that the cap creates an uneven playing field in favour of the third party funder as they will only ever be liable for the amount of their investment, whilst the opposing party would be liable for all of the costs of the funded party.

In the next part of the series…

The next blog in this series will take a look at the recent decision which has built upon the ‘Arkin cap’ in the matter of Davey v Money [2019] EWHC 997 (Ch).


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.