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

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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.

To what extent should the Court consider the Protected Party’s capacity (and wishes) to consent to sexual relations and contraception?

The Protected Party is a young woman with learning disabilities. She previously lived with her family but took part in a number of social and community activities. Concerns were raised, by reason, of her learning difficulties. She was vulnerable to sexual exploitation, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. There is evidence that she was sexually assaulted, and it was reported that the police expressed concern that the Protected Party should not be unsupervised as she appeared to be a target for sexual exploitation.

The Protected Party has two children, who are in the care of her family. A few years ago, an application was made to the court for an order that the Protected Party be sterilised. This application was aborted and the decision was made to consider a long term method of contraception instead. The other main issue was the concerns regarding the Protected Party’s protection against sexual exploitation.

The expert evidence of a consultant psychiatrist was that the Protected Party lacked mental capacity to consent to sexual relations, to consent to contraceptive treatment and to litigate. It was also recommended that the Protected Party should be supervised at all times when in the presence of sexually active men. She received further education about sexual matters and the Protected Party was to undergo the insertion under general anaesthetic of a copper inter-uterine device (IUD). It was advised that the Protected Party would be sedated, and the IUD would be inserted without her knowledge. This contraception would last for 10 years.

During a lengthy hearing in 2012, Parker J made an order in which, having declared that the Protected Party lacked capacity to litigate and to make decisions with regard to contraceptive treatment, she further declared that it was lawful for the Protected Party (with or without her agreement) to undergo the insertion of a copper coil IUD, to receive a Depo-Provera contraceptive injection, to undergo a full sexual health screen, and to be subject to proportionate restraint if necessary, including sedation. Following the hearing, the Protected Party underwent the operation for the insertion of the IUD. No reasoned judgment was given at the hearing in 2012 and, in the event, no further hearing took place for several years.

In 2016, the Local Authority made an application to restore the proceedings, to revisit the question of the Protected Party’s capacity to engage in sexual relations. The proceedings were to assess and evaluate the clinical risks to the Protected Party’s health presented to her by any further pregnancy; to revisit the Protected Party’s capacity to consent to contraceptive treatment; to re-evaluate the options for Protected Party’s contraceptive treatment in view of the fact that the IUD inserted in 2012 has a life of approximately ten years; to reassess the best interests decision not to inform her of the fact of the insertion of the IUD in the light of any improvement of her understanding; and to authorise her Deprivation of her Liberty at her placement.

Following the preparation of a report on future care support by the CHT, it was agreed that the IUD should remain in situ until the end of its natural life. A statement from the social worker set out four options:

(1) option A(i) – the IUD remains in place, the Protected Party is not informed of its existence, and care and supervision remains at its current level;

(2) option A (ii) – the IUD remains in place, the Protected Party is not informed of its existence, but the level of care and supervision is reduced;

(3) option B – the IUD is removed without informing the Protected Party and the risk of sexual exploitation is managed “through social means” with the current level of care and supervision;

(4) option C – the IUD remains in place and the Protected Party is informed of this.

Having analysed the benefits and disadvantages of these options, the social worker decided option 2 was in the Protected Party’s best interests.

At the hearing in 2017, the three principal issues between the parties were as follows:

(1) Does the Protected Party have capacity to consent to sexual relations?

(2) If she does, what steps should be authorised to facilitate the relationship between the Protected Party and her boyfriend, or between her and any other person with whom she wished to have a sexual relationship?

(3) Is the proposed relaxation in supervision in her best interests? In addition, however, it was thought appropriate for the court to review wider issues concerning her treatment, including the question of whether it should continue to be covert or whether the Protected Party should be informed about it.

In addition, however, it was thought appropriate for the court to review wider issues concerning her treatment, including the question of whether it should continue to be covert or whether the Protected Party should be informed about it. As there remain a number of details within the draft order which the parties have been unable to agree, it was necessary for the judge to make an order outlining the best interests of the Protected Party in relation to her capacity – general principles, capacity other than sexual relations, her capacity to consent to sexual relations, contraception, covert treatment and her sexual relationships and supervision.

In this case, there are a number of arguments against retaining the IUD. It is a clear infringement of the Protected Party’s human rights and freedom. Furthermore, this infringement has been brought about without her knowledge and without providing her with any opportunity to express her wishes and feelings. In her oral evidence, the Care Agency manager said that she thought that the Protected Party would not want to keep the IUD if asked. Secondly, although the Protected has not been expressly asked about her wishes and feelings concerning contraception, she has consistently said that she does not want to have a baby at this stage. It was necessary to consider the psychological harm that the Protected Party may encounter if; the IUD was removed and she became pregnant again or if the IUD was removed without sedation. In this instance, it was decided that it is in the Protected Party’s best interests for the IUD to remain in place until the end of its normal ten-year span. At that point, further careful consideration will have to be given as to what contraceptive treatment.

It was directed for the level of sexual supervision of the Protected Party and her boyfriend should be relaxed slightly and reviewed at a further hearing once this has been considered in more depth. Finally, the provisions of the order relating to the IUD plainly involve a Deprivation of Liberty. A clause was included within the order that such a deprivation is lawful.

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

Disproportionate Costs in the Court of Protection

In the case of Hounslow v A Father & Mother (Costs in the Court of Protection – Disproportionate litigation) [2018] EWCOP 23, Judge Eldergill looked at the effects of deviating away from the simple issue at hand and the way that costs can spiral when disproportionate and unnecessary work is undertaken. It also looked at the costs consequences and the unfairness that can be encountered by a Litigant in Person.

The proceedings were in relation to a young man. The Applicant was the London Borough of Hounslow and the Respondents, were the young man’s parents.  The young man resided with his father and suffered from a severe learning disability, which rendered him unable to manage his own property and financial affairs. The financial assets were modest, and the young man received a number of benefits. At the time that the proceedings were issued, the father was the Department of Work and Pensions appointee and the mother assisted with the administration of his state benefits.

In this case, the local authority considered that a Deputyship would be more appropriate due to financial safeguarding concerns, obtained by an anonymous informant.  On 6 February 2017, the Court issued an application filed by the local authority, which asked the Court to appoint the Director of Children’s and Adult Social Services as the Deputy.

On 1 March 2017, the father filed an acknowledgement of service, opposing the application. The father stated that the local authority had failed to provide him with a copy of the application saying it was ‘confidential’. It was also stated that the local authority had not provided any more details or evidence in support of the application.

A Dispute Resolution Hearing had been listed for 2 May 2017, following which no resolution was reached. Judge Hilder listed a number of comprehensive directions in relation to the filing of evidence, position statements and the trial. The matter then came before Judge Eldergill and he stated the following;

1) A case involving the alleged misuse of state benefits has generated an enormous amount of documentation, and no doubt legal costs, quite disproportionate to the simple central issue of an alleged misuse of benefits.

2) The position statements and correspondence are full of generalised assertions of abuse of process, applications being misconceived, summary judgment, etc, which no doubt partly explains why so much paper has been generated.

3) Both legally-represented parties have made basic procedural errors (filing lengthy documents electronically despite what the rules say, including references to discussions at a DRH, filing bundles that are immediately to be returned, not serving the application within the required time limits).

I make these points because of the very clear costs implications.

He then made a further order on 13 November 2017, setting out concerns and the following directions:

UPON

(1)  Considering bundles and other filed documentation concerning this application of in excess of one thousand pages.

WHEREAS

(1)  The local authority has applied to be appointed as the deputy for property and financial affairs of [the son] who is a gentleman in receipt of social security benefits that are managed under a DWP appointeeship held by the First Respondent.

(2)  The outcome of the application will be either that the First Respondent continues to act as [his son’s] appointee (if the application is dismissed) or that the local authority is appointed as [his son’s] deputy, in which case the local authority automatically becomes his appointee.

(3)  The overriding objective of the rules is to enable the court to deal with a case justly. This includes ensuring that it is dealt with expeditiously, in ways which are proportionate to the nature, importance and complexity of the issues, saving expense, and allotting to it an appropriate share of the court’s resources. The parties are required to help the court to further the overriding objective.

(4) Unfortunately, an application concerning the management of [the son’s] benefits has generated over one thousand pages of documents and a huge amount of professional time, expenditure and legal costs quite disproportionate to a simple central issue of alleged misuse of benefits. While the court acknowledges that some of the documentation and expense was required of the parties as a result of the court’s case management directions of 2 May 2017, the amount of documentation filed has nevertheless been contrary to the overriding objective.

(5) Furthermore, and notwithstanding any submissions to the contrary:

(a) The position statements and correspondence are full of generalised assertions of abuse of process, applications being misconceived, summary judgment, etc, which no doubt partly explains why so much paper has been generated.

(b) Both legally-represented parties have made basic procedural errors (filing lengthy documents electronically despite what the rules say, including references to discussions at a DRH, filing bundles that are immediately to be returned, not serving the application within the required time limits, referring inappropriately to public interest immunity, etc).

(6) The parties will be aware that such considerations and observations have clear implications in terms of the recovery of the legal costs generated by these proceedings.

(7) On the documentary evidence filed to date, the court makes the following provisional observations in order to assist the parties:

(a)  The safeguarding investigation was fundamentally flawed and unfair.

(b) The financial information filed to date suggests that there was a lack of prudent good housekeeping under the previous arrangements in force until February 2017 in relation to the way in which benefits were used for [the son’s] benefit.

(c)  The position statement dated 27 September 2017 filed on behalf of the First Respondent is in quite general terms, in particular the financial tables at (internal) pp.10-12.

(d)  A hearing in the Court of Protection regarding the redaction of the identity of the informant would be disproportionately costly. Whether the initial report was malicious or not, and whoever the informant was, it is for the local authority to establish on evidence that there has been mismanagement or misuse by the Second Respondent of [her son’s] funds, that such mismanagement or misuse means that the First Respondent (sic) cannot remain as [his son’s] appointee, and furthermore that it justifies a deputyship order in favour of the local authority.

(e) To date, and despite a prolonged safeguarding investigation, the local authority has not established that the Second Respondent has used [the son’s] funds for her own benefit or that the First Respondent is an inappropriate appointee. If the local authority cannot prove that then it follows that the informant was an unreliable informant.

(f)  In relation to that issue, the local authority has not received unredacted copies of the Second Respondent’s bank statements or had an opportunity to test the evidence of both Respondents by way of cross-examination. That being so, summary dismissal of the application (with the likely costs consequences) would not be just or appropriate at this stage.

(g) On the basis that the local authority is unwilling to withdraw its application, a short half-day final trial is appropriate with the following witness template: First Respondent Evidence-in-Chief 15 minutes, Cross-Examination 30 minutes; Second Respondent Evidence-in-Chief 15 minutes, Cross-Examination 30 minutes; Submissions 30 minutes; Judgment 30 minutes.

(h) Prior to the hearing the Second Respondent must (as she has very fairly willingly agreed to do) file and serve unredacted copies of the previously filed bank statements.

The mother provided the bank statements and details of the withdrawals and expenditure and the final hearing was on 2 February 2018. The Local Authority had withdrawn its application and left the matter of costs to be determined.

The young man had no savings so the usual rule of costs, that the costs be paid from the estate was not an option.  Judge Eldergill stated that the ‘proceedings had taken up a wholly disproportionate amount of court time and had been conducted with insufficient proportionality.’ The Judge concluded that the case could have been resolved in an efficient manner by simply reviewing bank statements and asking questions, but instead there were ‘hundreds of unnecessary and bad-tempered correspondence, witness statements, position statements and emails’ which amounted to approximately £50,000.00 plus VAT costs in respect of the Respondents costs and £15,000.00 in respect of the local authority’s costs.

Payment of costs in respect of property and financial affairs applications under Rule 19.2, state that the ‘costs should be paid by P or charged by to P’s estate’, however Rule 19.5 can be applied when there is support in departing from the general rule. The judge held that the litigation was conducted disproportionately by both sides and there was a failure to focus on the simple central issue of; whether the bank statements could indicate any misuse of funds. Furthermore, Judge Eldergill stated that he did not believe that the ‘costs incurred by the First Respondent were proportionate to the issues, complexity of the case and the son’s circumstances’.

The proportionality of the work undertaken on behalf of the First Respondent were deemed to be assessed on an item-by-item detailed assessment basis. The Local Authority would then pay 90% of those costs, with the 10% reduction reflecting the Courts findings of the conduct of the other party. The costs in relation to the Litigant in Person were much more complex and the Judge felt that they lead to an injustice. The Judge also called for the rules to be reviewed and revised so that the Court can award a Litigant in Person costs in a case such as this one. It will be interesting to see if there are any developments in this area.

Mr Justice Hayden appointed as the new Vice-President for the Court of Protection – what does this mean for the Court of Protections future?

Further to the recent appointment of Sir Andrew McFarlane as President of the Family Division of the High Court comes the appointment of Mr Justice Hayden as the new Vice-President of the Court of Protection.

Who is Mr Justice Hayden?

Sir Anthony Paul Hayden was called to the bar at Middle Temple and was appointed as Queen’s Counsel in 2002. On 31 July 2013, he was appointed as a judge of the High Court of Justice in the Family Division.

Some of his most noteworthy cases that he has overseen include the legal challenge by the parents of Alfie Evans against Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.

What are the responsibilities of the President and Vice President?

The powers of the President and Vice President are to oversee the daily activities of the Court of Protection and to liaise with lower level judges to ensure effective performance in all aspects of the Court’s work. They require a good level of leadership, detailed knowledge of the Court’s jurisdiction and a comprehensive understanding of the Mental Capacity Act.

What does this appointment mean for the Court of Protection?

Considering the cases overseen by Mr Justice Hayden, his experience in matters relating to families and those who would be under the care of the Court of Protection is extensive, and will be invaluable in the future development of the Court.

Given the Mental Capacity Act (Amendment) Bill currently making its way through the legislative process, changes in the Court of Protection are on the horizon and Justice Hayden’s history in practice will be extremely useful in the implementation of these.

The team here at Clarion Solicitors wish to congratulate both Andrew McFarlane and Anthony Hayden.

Departure from the General Rule of Costs in the Court of Protection due to ‘Disorganised Thinking, Planning and Management’

There has been a departure from the general rules on costs within the Court of Protection in the recent case of London Borough of Lambeth v MCS (by her litigation friend) and Anor (2018).

The Official Solicitor (OS) was of the view that all of the costs incurred in respect of the proceedings should be born entirely by the London Borough of Lambeth and the CCG, as it was believed that the proceedings should never have been brought in the first place and also because of the conduct of the parties throughout the  proceedings. Taking this view point, a departure from the general rule of costs would be appropriate.

The background to the matter was that the Protected Party was originally from Columbia and collapsed in a street in the UK in 2014. Following on from the incident, the Protected Party was left with a severe cognitive impairment. She remained in hospital for a significant length of time, despite her requests to return to Columbia, and that it was also deemed in her best interests to return to there under section 4 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

An application was made by Lambeth Counsel which resulted in years of hearings and protracted proceedings which not only cost the tax payer in funding the Protected Party’s care and the legal fees, but it meant that the Protected Party was being kept against her wishes and for no good reason. The Judge stated ;

‘if the authority had done what it should have done in a timely professional manner, not only could they have saved themselves over £100,000 a year, and saved the cost to the taxpayer of these protracted High Court proceedings, they could have avoided P the years of misery from being kept a prisoner here, against her will.’

The Protected Party did not leave the UK until 25 January 2018.

Mr Justice Newton thereafter invited parties to submit their submissions on costs at the recent Hearing it was also reported within the Costs Judgement;

‘ The Court is deeply critical of the manner in which this case was handled both before and after the institution of proceedings. It is further troubling that even within the written submissions are many misconceived assertions or contentions as to fact. The proceedings were instigated by P’s RPR in December 2016 because no constructive progress for P was being made. P was unsettled, unable to communicate, frustrated and quite evidently deeply unhappy. A situation which could and should have been avoided.’

Furthermore, the Judge went on to say that he could not ignore the “disorganised thinking, planning and management” which resulted in the Protected Party being detained in the UK for a longer period of time than was necessary.

The Judge ruled that the costs of the proceedings were to be born by the Applicant and the Second Respondent both jointly and severally due to the circumstances of the case being ‘so poor and so extreme’.

This case highlights that even though it is rare, the Court will depart from the general rule if they have good reason to do so and the conduct of the local authority and the delays satisfied section 19.5 (1) (2) of the Court of Protection Rules 2017. It is noteworthy to consider the proceedings as a whole and to ensure that the matter is being dealt with accordingly in order to avoid any unnecessary costs consequences.