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.

Electronic Filing – Court of Protection Cases

As of today, the pilot begins for voluntary electronic filing at the Senior Courts Costs Office. To request an assessment, the bill of costs, the N258B and the authority to assess are to be forwarded through e-filing. The papers are to be sent as normal in the post/DX for the current time. This process becomes mandatory on 20 January 2020.

This is a big change in costs and particularly regarding COP costs, whereby it was expected that electronic filing would not apply. We have had confirmation from the SCCO that this does apply to COP cases and we recommend that all practitioners begin doing this going forward before the process becomes mandatory.

 The portal link can be found here: https://efile.cefile-app.com/login

 Information about existing FAQ’s following the E-Filing in other Courts can be found here: https://leedslawsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/E-Filing-Frequently-Asked-Questions.pdf

The link to the government website regarding CE-Filing which includes step by step guides can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/ce-file-system-information-and-support-advice

 If you have any queries, please contact Stephanie Kaye on 0113 336 3402 or stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com

 

 

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.

Successful appeal against a Judge’s decision in respect of the Protected Party’s Deprivation of Liberty

In the case of CB v Medway Council & Anor (Appeal) [2019] EWCOP, the Official Solicitor appealed against a decision which justified the Protected Party’s Deprivation of Liberty.

The Protected Party was a 91 year old female, who no longer lived at her own property following a fall and persistent urinary tract infections. The Protected Party resided at a care home and was provided with a care package, which ultimately was said to have not worked out. The Protected Party’s litigation friend, the Official Solicitor, made an application to enable the Protected Party to reside at her own property, however, the Judge dismissed this application using her summary power.

The Official Solicitor disagreed with the decision of the Judge and therefore appealed the same. The Official Solicitor argued that the Judge did not abide by her duty to ensure that the Protected Party’s best interests were considered as the Judge had failed to allow the Official Solicitor to gather further evidence to support the argument in relation to the feasibility of the Protected Party returning to live at her property. The Court allowed the appeal as the Protected Party’s Deprivation of Liberty should have been considered and thoroughly explored, rather than the Judge dismissing the application based on speculation and general experience within similar cases.

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

Could breaching a transparency Order ultimately lead to an application for imprisonment?

In the case of Office of the Public Guardian v Stalter [2018] EWCOP 27, an application was made by the Office of the Public Guardian to commit the Protected Party’s partner to prison due to him disclosing information that was in breach of a transparency Order.

The Protected Party had been diagnosed with dementia in March 2016, from October 2016 to January 2018, the Protected Party’s partner, named Mr Stalter, had communicated with a number of different people in a certain way which lead to a breach of the transparency Order. The transparency Order stated that ‘proceedings were not to be published, nor were the identities of other parties to be published, nor was any information tending to identify those individuals as a patient or parties to be published, nor were their addresses or contact details to be published.’ During this communication to various individuals, Mr Stalter advised that the Protected Party was in fact subject to the Court of Protection proceedings and further advised on the individuals that were parties to the proceedings, which included himself. Mr Stalter further disclosed personal details, which was in fact prohibited by the transparency Order, therefore the Protected Party’s partner had breached the Order. The Office of the Public Guardian therefore wished to bring a committal Order.

Mr Stalter was found to be in contempt of Court, however the Court determined that no Order for his committal needed to be made having regard to the fact that he did confirm that he would abide by the Order. The Courts were of the opinion that no punishment would be appropriate for this case due to the fact that Mr Stalter had already suffered as a result of the situation.

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

Tips for Recoverability

All COP Lawyers know that the SCCO Guideline Hourly Rates can be frustrating when trying to recover all of your costs as opposed to other areas of law in which higher rates can be charged. As a result, some believe it to be unreasonable that a Costs Officer ca reduce the costs down even further on assessment. Here are some things that we have seen helps improve the recoverability of your fees.

Using 3 minutes to arrange and make payments. I know you’re told this on every assessment you’ve had back from the SCCO but ignoring it isn’t going to make your recoverability any better. The Costs Officer isn’t going to change their mind. Arranging payments are viewed as an office overhead so its best practice for you to delegate this work to a Grade D fee earner and limit the time spent and charged for to 3 minutes. The Costs Officer is going to see the effort being made and as a result, this will help with your reputation with the Court and will improve your Bill assessment outcomes.

You, like all other COP Lawyers dislike the low guideline rates that you’re restricted to. If there are any matters of complicated work, outline this to us or your other Costs Draftsperson and request enhanced rates on that particular issue. We have found that there is a higher chance of success for an enhanced rate when it is applied specifically to a complex and difficult issue than when it is applied to the whole bill. Doing this allows the Costs Officer to see specifically what was difficult and justifies why you are requesting the additional fees. We are often proactive in applying these for you when a complex matter arises, such as jurisdictional differences, the requirement of language interpretations, abusive Clients etc.

The Costs Officer will reduce or remove a second fee earner attendance at a meeting in accordance with the decisions made within the Matter of Garylee Grimsley (December 1998). Therefore, it is incredibly important for your recovery that the dual attendance is explained and justified in your attendance note. Just a line to outline why the second person was required will do, were they the main fee earner alongside the Deputy? Did the Client or Client’s family request they be present? Was the Client abusive or dangerous? It may be allowed at a reduced rate however it is

As simple as this one may sound, keep your file in chronological order and easy to get through. The last thing you want to do is make the Costs Officers life difficult when they’re assessing your costs.

Furthermore, ensure that you accurately time record your work. We appreciate that different firms have differing levels of technology available, but this need not be the most complex and time consuming system. If you do have the option to tag your time entries, this will help all parties involved when it comes to the costing of the work. Bulk time recording will cause difficulties so avoid this as much as possible. Also, ensure that the time spent is reasonable from the outset and delegate where appropriate. However, please don’t self-edit your time because if this is later reduced on assessment you will have doubly been reduced where not necessary.

Additionally, including details of the Client’s financial position assists the Costs Officer in ensuring the work undertaken is in proportion to the level of assets held and increases the chances of your time being recovered, especially in circumstances where the Client’s assets are significant and various financial schedules and reviews are required. See https://clarionlegalcosts.com/2015/06/09/how-valuable-is-the-protected-partys-estate/ for further information on this point.

I hope this helps and if you have any further suggestions or questions I would be happy to hear and discuss them further at bridie.sanderson@clarionsolicitors.com