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

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 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

The Local Authority seeks orders to restrict the Husband’s contact with the Protected Party.

The case of SR v A Local Authority & Anor (2018), involves the Protected Party (SR), who was an 83-year-old woman who suffered from late onset Alzheimer’s, which was of moderate to severe intensity.

The Protected Party resides at a care home and lacks capacity to decide who she has contact with and to decide on any arrangements for such contact. The Local Authority raised awareness that the Protected Party may be at risk of harm in her husband’s sole care, due to his expressed views on euthanasia, which involved reference to throwing himself and his wife into a river and supplying her with tablets. The Protected Party’s husband also had restrictions placed on the care that he could provide to the Protected Party, such as having to be accompanied if he took her out of the care home. The Protected Party’s family wished for her to return home and the Protected Party has allegedly stated her wishes to be with her husband as she becomes distressed when he leaves her.

In determining whether the Protected Party would be at risk, the court reached the conclusion that the restriction sought by the Local Authority was neither justifiable, proportionate or necessary. They therefore declined to make the Order sought. It was believed that the Protected Party’s husband would most likely not harm the Protected Party, as he had been previously been with her many times unaccompanied. The Protected Party’s daughter also stated that her mother and her father were a happy and loving couple with no allegations of domestic violence ever having been made between them.

Unusual Granting of an Order to Prevent the Protected Party from knowing the full details of his Personal Injury Settlement following an application made by his Professional Deputy.

In this personal injury case, the judge had to grapple with an unexpected question – should a Deputy, appointed to manage the personal injury payment made to a brain-injured claimant, be allowed to not tell the claimant the exact amount that was awarded to him?

The case of EXB v FDZ

The case of EXB v FDZ (2018) was very unusual in that it involved an application by the Protected Party’s professional Deputy, and his mother as Litigation Friend, to prevent the Protected Party from knowing the full details of his personal injury settlement, which was deemed to be in his best interests.

This was a complex matter, as the Court recognised that withholding such information inadvertently affected the Protected Party’s rights. Judge Foskett explained in his judgement that he had never come across this issue before and he called upon assistance from Ms. Butler-Cole as a ‘friend of the Court’.

The Protected Party

The Protected Party sustained orthopaedic injuries, alongside a severe brain injury following a road traffic accident. The Protected Party was a backseat passenger in a car driven by the First Defendant. The Protected Party was not wearing a seatbelt and his damages were reduced accordingly, following an admission of contributory negligence.

Why was it in the best interests of the Protected Party to withhold settlement info?

The applicants submitted evidence from both themselves and professionals which detailed the reasons as to why it was in the Protected Party’s best interests to withhold the settlement information.

The Protected Party’s neuropsychologist stated that “Such knowledge would translate and impact upon his behaviour”. It was believed that the Protected Party would become fixated by the sum of money, that it would lead to him being extremely vulnerable and placed into a situation where he was likely to be financially exploited. Interestingly, the Protected Party himself expressed to his Deputy and the Court that he would be better off not knowing the sum; however, he also stated that he was conned into making such a statement. Following the accident, the Protected Party was very impulsive, and he often became very anxious when it came to money, struggling to budget and often living beyond his means.

The Judge gave careful consideration to the evidence submitted, as well as reviewing the relevant legislation, such as the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Following this, the Judge held that the Protected Party lacked the relevant decision-making capacity, finding that it was in the Protected Party’s best interests not to be told the value of the reward. The Judge also considered whether it was within the scope of a normal Deputy Order not to reveal the sum; however, the Deputy argued that it would make the Deputy’s life more difficult if the Protected Party believed that he was personally withholding the information and it was considered more appropriate for the Deputy to state that the Court prevented him from doing so.

Costs of the application

The next issue that arose was in respect of the costs of the application. The Claimant sought the costs of the application to be paid by the Third and Fourth Defendants of the Personal Injury claim, as their tort had necessitated. The Third and Fourth Defendants objected to paying the costs. Their defence stated that “they should not be responsible for the costs because all of the issues between them and the Claimant were concluded by the Settlement which was approved in April 2018” and that this particular issue was a ‘solicitor/own client’ dispute. Within the remit of the initial Personal Injury claim, there was no claim for costs attributable to this issue within the Schedule of Loss and there was also the fear that there may be an “open-ended commitment to pay the costs associated with any repeat applications”.

As the issue had been dealt with under the Court of Protection, it was necessary to apply the Court of Protection costs rules. The general rule being that where the issue concerns financial matters, the costs of all parties are to be borne from the Protected Party’s estate (Rule 19.2). The Court does have a broad discretion to depart from the general rule, if circumstances made a different order more appropriate (Rule 19.5). In this case, the Third and Fourth Defendants had not been made formal parties to the application, but they had been provided with an opportunity to make representations regarding the Costs Order being sought.

Judge Foskett held that the costs were to be borne by the relevant Defendants, as the need to make the application arose directly from their actions following the injury caused to the Protected Party, therefore departing from the general rule.

It will be interesting to see whether there will be any similar applications and what the outcomes will be. The Judge has invited the appropriate bodies to consider these matters and decide whether a consultation on this issue will be required.

This blog was prepared by Danielle Walker who is a Costs Lawyer within the Court of Protection Team. Danielle can be contacted at Danielle.walker@clarionsolicitors.com

 

 

Impersonating a Protected Party grounds for imprisonment – Dudley v Hill

Court of Protection orders imprisonment of a Respondent for falsely impersonating the Protected Party and breaching an injunction.

In the case of Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council v Hill (2018), the Court of Protection made an Order for committal to prison after the Respondent was found guilty of impersonating the Protected Party and incurring costs on the Protected Party’s behalf without the authority to do so.

The Court of Protection were concerned for the Protected Party, both in relation to his health and welfare and also his property and financial affairs. There had been a provisional declaration made within the proceedings that the Protected Party lacked capacity. The Protected Party resided in his own home with his support workers, and the Local Authority were heavily involved in the matter.

The Protected Party was an 82-year-old man who suffered from dementia and the Respondent had been impersonating the Protected Party for a significant amount of time. The Respondent was served an injunction which forbid him to directly or indirectly contact the Protected Party or come within 100 meters of his property. The Respondent breached the injunction by attending the Protected Party’s property on 25th November 2017 and in January 2018, the Respondent fraudulently arranged for the installation of BT equipment without the required authority. Furthermore, the Respondent made a large number of telephone calls from the Protected Party’s property, which incurred unnecessary charges and proved that he had entered the Protected Party’s property.

The Respondent was required to attend a hearing, which was to determine whether he had breached the Order for injunction. The Respondent failed to attend the hearing and the Court then found him guilty as a result of the breach of the Order of injunction. The Respondent was sentenced to 4 months imprisonment, to be served concurrently.

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

All you need to know about Counsel’s Fees in COP – How are they assessed?

Deputyship management is not always plain sailing, and on occasions, professional Deputies may be instructed to take on a case whereby the background is complicated, the circumstances are unusual and where Counsel are required to progress the matter. We have investigated the general rules applied when Counsel’s’ fees are to be assessed, and here is everything you need to know.

On what basis are the reductions made?

Firstly, it is important to recognise that in Deputyship matters, all costs are open for assessment. When a Deputyship Order is issued, it provides the authority for the professionals involved in the case to have their costs assessed. This includes the Professional Deputy, Counsel and in some instances, if a translator is required, their costs would also be subject to assessment.

What do the SCCO look at when deciding whether Counsel’s fees should be allowed?

Following a conversation with an experienced Costs Officer, advice was obtained regarding what aspects they consider when reviewing Counsel’s fees, once a bill of costs had been submitted for assessment. As there are no clear “black and white” guidelines for the assessment of Counsel’s fees, the Costs Officers are able to use their discretion on a case by case basis to review what would be a reasonable and proportionate amount to allow. Approximately, £300.00 per hour is allowed for a hearing, and £250.00 per hour for general work, however based on the complexity, volume of work undertaken, geographical location of Counsel and the breakdown of work outlined on Counsel’s fee note, these hourly rates could be revised by the Costs Officer.

It is important to note that it is your responsibility to work with your costs provider to include a detailed narrative within the Bill of Costs, explaining and justifying Counsel’s fees and involvement. For example, the Costs Officer would question why a Leeds based firm would instruct a London based Counsel. Details of the facts of the case, any hearings that have taken place, and the necessity of the work conducted should be included within the bill. Furthermore, when the bill is submitted for assessment, a Counsel’s fee note should be provided with the Bill of Costs. A further point to take into account is that not all Counsel’s fee notes are detailed enough, and therefore this increases the importance of including information relating to the complexity and background of the case when preparing the Bill of Costs.

A general understanding is that if Counsel had claimed for overall “refreshing themselves on the case” as they have not worked on the matter for a prolonged period of time this would not be allowed upon assessment as it would be deemed disproportionate and unreasonable.

Are the Deputyship firm expected to cover the reductions?

Counsel and professional Deputies are both aware that their costs are to be assessed and therefore, they are also aware that their costs could be reduced upon assessment. It is recommended for Counsel and the professional Deputy to make an agreement before the Bill of Costs is sent for assessment, whether the Deputy’s firm would cover the shortfall if reductions are made, or Counsel agrees to refund the reductions. Secondly, it was advised to wait until the Bill of Costs has been assessed before settling Counsel’s fees.

Do Counsel have a right to dispute the reductions?

If Counsel’s fees have been reduced upon assessment, they have a right to dispute the decision. This would be done in the format of a Request for Reassessment, prepared by your costs provider, outlining the reasons why you disagree with the reductions made and evidence in support of this.

It is noteworthy that Counsel are considered to be an “interested party” and therefore the professional Deputy would have to serve a copy of the provisionally assessed Bill of Costs on Counsel, and receive confirmation that they accept the amount allowed before the SCCO will issue the Final Costs Certificate, which provides authority for the Deputy and Counsel to be paid.

If you have any queries, or require any further information then please do not hesitate to contact Georgia Clarke at georgia.clarke@clarionsolicitors.com

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.