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.

 

 

Court of Protection Court Fees: An Update

In order to have a bill of costs assessed, it is necessary to pay a Court Fee to the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO). Depending on the type of the bill, the fee amount varies. Currently, within the Court of Protection, the cost to have a bill assessed is £225 for a detailed bill and £115 for a short form bill of costs. A short form bill is a bill with profit costs up to £3,000 and a detailed bill of costs is a bill with profit costs above £3,000.

From the 22nd July 2019, these fees are due to change. By way of The Court Fees (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2019 there is due to be a reduction to the Court Fees due to have a bill of costs assessed. S4 (3)(a) of the Act states that the fee for filing a bill of costs to be assessed will be £85.00. This is dramatic change within the rules and something that will affect all professional Deputies who wish to have their bill of costs assessed, making it cheaper to do so.

The most significant aspect of the Act is that going forward, there will be no distinction between fees for filing short form and detailed bills of costs. As stated, this will be taking place from the 22nd July 2019 and so all professional Deputies should be aware of this when sending any bills to the SCCO to be assessed on or after this date.

There will also be changes made to application, appeal and hearing fees for all Court of Protection matters. These can be found in s3 The Court Fees (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2019.

 

Court of Protection Costs – Types of Assessments for your Costs.

The previous blog in this series focused on the process of what goes into a Bill of Costs in the Court of Protection world. This blog will instead look at the process of an assessment in the Court of Protection and the different types of assessment that can occur.

Firstly, authority for the cost’s assessment must be established, as all Orders as to costs are at the discretion of the Court of Protection. There are three main methods of evaluating costs; agreed costs, fixed costs and summary/detailed assessment of Costs.

  • Agreed Costs

These kinds of costs Order are not regularly available in Court of Protection cases. As a principle, all bills of costs must be assessed, except where fixed costs are available. However, the Court may authorise parties to agree costs, where appropriate to do so. This is often used upon the death of a Protected Party whereby the Deputy is expected to agree costs with the Executor of the estate.

  • ­Fixed Costs

­Found within Practice Direction 19B, fixed costs are available to solicitors and professionals acting as Deputy. The general rule is that costs of the proceedings should be paid by P or charged to their estate, but this rule can be departed from.

In Cases where fixed costs are not appropriate, professional Deputies may, if preferred, apply to the SCCO for a detailed assessment of costs. However, this does not apply if P’s net assets are below £16,000. In these cases, the option for detailed assessment will only arise if the Court makes a specific order.

  • Detailed Assessment

The detailed assessment of costs under Orders or Directions of the Court of Protection is dealt with in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules. Professional Deputies should lodge a request for detailed assessment with the SCCO (not the Court of Protection or the Office of Public Guardian) using the N258B (request for detailed assessment), accompanied by:

  • The bill of costs;
  • Documents giving the right to detailed assessment;
  • Copies of all the orders;
  • Fee notes of counsel or experts;
  • Details of other disbursements;
  • Postal Address of any person who has a financial interest in the outcome of assessment;
  • Relevant assessment fee (£115 or £225);
  • The OPG105 (if applicable).

Part 27 of the Practice Direction 17.2(2) states that cases over £100,000.00, complex or other cases are to be dealt with by a Master. The relevant papers in support of the bill must only be lodged if requested by the Master.

Once the bill of costs is lodged in the correct manner, the Costs Officer will review the bundle of documents and assess the costs. The Costs Officer will review the bill of costs alongside the files of papers and decide whether costs have been reasonably, necessarily and proportionately incurred, making reductions, where necessary based on relevant case law and judicial decisions. The bill of costs is thereafter returned to the Deputy for consideration.

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 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

 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

Can The Court of Protection Keep a Patient Alive?

It is well known, and often the cause of heated debate, that assisted suicide is illegal within the United Kingdom. If a person is terminally ill and wishes to die, that person would have no rights under UK law to end their life with dignity. However, recent case law suggests that there may be a slight shift in how the Court of Protection handles a terminally ill patient.

Recently, the Supreme Court judged that a 52 year old man (Mr Y) with an extensive brain injury should be allowed to die without Mr Y’s family being forced to apply to the Court of Protection. At the time of the application, Mr Y was receiving clinically assisted nutrition and hydration and although Mr Y had died at the time of the appeal, it was deemed necessary for the appeal to proceed due to the importance of the issues raised.

For clarity, once clinically assisted nutrition and hydration is withdrawn, a person is generally expected to survive no more than two weeks. Following on from the Supreme Court ruling, it has now been agreed that where the family and medical practitioners are in agreement, it is no longer necessary for an application to be made to the Court of Protection.

This decision had also been taken in another case where a woman (M) who had suffered with Huntington disease for over 25 years was permanently residing in hospital and was in a minimally conscious state. The Supreme Court judged that the clinically assisted nutrition and hydration was withdrawn and M died shortly after. Following the decision, Jackson stated “There was no statutory obligation to bring the case to court … A mandatory litigation requirement may deflect clinicians and families from making true best-interests decisions and in some cases lead to inappropriate treatment continuing by default. Indeed, the present case stands as an example, in that M received continued CANH that neither her doctors nor her family thought was in her best interests for almost a year until a court decision was eventually sought.”

However, it is worth noting that the decision in M related specifically to those living on life support, as opposed to all ‘right to die’ cases.

It is becoming clear that there is a shift appearing from the way in which those who are terminally ill are treated by the courts. Previously, an application to the Court of Protection would be required to make a decision on the care received, however, now it appears that the best interests of the terminally ill patient will be put first without the requirement of an application.

Court of Protection Costs – How to get paid and what happens to your costs?

As many hard-working solicitors are focused on ensuring their clients get the best service, it is possible for them to lose sight of their own costs. Here is a refresher guide to the procedure for getting paid.

The Payment Process

The process begins when the anniversary of the Order/matter completes, and the files are sent to your Costs Lawyer or Law Costs Draftsman; at Clarion, we offer the expertise of both. It is good practice to do this annually, as close to the end of the annual management year as possible (Section 6 of PD19B). This means that no costs are lost if there is an overlap period from the previous months or years.

Secondly, whilst the file is with your trusted Costs Lawyer or Law Costs Draftsman, the Bill of Costs is prepared. A Detailed Bill is required for matters with profit costs exceeding £3,000 and a Short Form Bill is needed for matters with profit costs lower than £3,000. There is no difference in the procedure for the bills – the difference in their names reflects their differing length and the amount of detail that they contain.

The Bill of Costs is then completed and, along with supporting documents, filed with the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) for assessment, after which its returned by the SCCO to your lawyer.

Process for reassessment

Upon reviewing the assessment, if you are unhappy with it, you can lodge a request for reassessment with the SCCO. Here at Clarion, we are more than happy to review any assessments and consider an appeal; we can also lodge the request for reassessment on your behalf. Please get in touch with a member of our Costs Team to find out more.

The process for the request for reassessment is as follows:

  • If you are unhappy with the outcome of the assessment, you can request a reassessment within 14 days of the original assessment.
  • The Bill of Costs is returned to the Costs Officer for reconsideration in respect of the points appealed.
  • The Costs Officer will generally accept where they have made an error. They base their assessment on the points raised before them, so these points need to be justified; Costs Officers have been known to be unpredictable.
  • If you are still unhappy with the assessment, you can proceed to an oral hearing before a Costs Master, but be aware that this can be an expensive and timely process.

When you are happy with the assessment outcome, copies of the assessed Bill of Costs are served on the interested parties (if applicable) who have 14 days to challenge the Bill.

Once the assessment is finalised then a Costs Summary can be completed and filed with the SCCO, allowing the Costs Certificate to be drawn, and you to get paid.

Then the procedure will repeat, as and when the time period (annually) completes, although there are various scenarios which would result in changes to the process as described above. In these circumstances, get in contact with our team and we can assist, where necessary, to ensure that you are paid.

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.