Coronavirus Update: Bar Council guidance on attendance at Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attending Court

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

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

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

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

Key worker status updated

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

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

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

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

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.

 

UPDATES – What is a good reason to depart from a budget??

Since Harrison v University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust [2017] EWCA Civ 792 and the ruling that a budget will only be departed from (up or down) if there is good reason to do so, there has existed the issue of what a good reason to depart from a budget upon detailed assessment is. Case law provides authority for what does and does not amount to a good reason, and there has now been time to reflect on this.

The matter of what constitutes a good reason is still subject to much questioning and debate, as there is no distinct definition of what amounts to ‘a good reason’.

The case of RNB v London Borough of Newham [2017] EWHC B15 (Costs), which followed that of Harrison and Deputy Master Campbell, decided that departing from the hourly rates was a good reason to depart from the budget. However, this decision faced criticism, in that the Judges’ role in the budgeting process is to set a total for each phase in the budget and is not to approve or fix the hourly rates.

Therefore, for all intents and purposes, it is irrelevant what the hourly rate is for those budgeted costs, at the time that the budget is set. A Judge may look at it like this: whether a party spends 15 hours at £200.00 per hour, or 20 hours at £150.00, for a total phase of £3,000.00 – the figure is still the same. The total phase is just that: a total amount which the Court believes is appropriate for the work required.

The issue of hourly rates – and a good reason to depart from a budget – was revisited in Bains v Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust. This decision went against RNB, as it ruled that to reduce the hourly rates in line with reductions made to those of the incurred costs would be to second guess what the Judge was thinking at the point of costs management.

Nash v Ministry of Defence [2018] EWHC B4 (Costs), a high court decision following the decision of Bains, ruled that, if the change in hourly rate for incurred costs was a good reason to depart from the budgeted figures, it would bring about a case of double jeopardy. Thus, the only way to combat this, would be to undertake an assessment of the incurred costs at the costs case management hearing.

Jallow v Ministry of Defence [2018] EWHC B7 (Costs) highlighted matters that do not amount to a good reason to depart from the budget, and how the costs management order (CMO) can impact the detailed assessment. Master Rowley commented that the two factors brought in front of him, namely the settlement figure in comparison to the pleaded value, and the reduction in the hourly rates, do not amount to good reasons for departing from the budget.

The Master concluded that a reduction to rates for incurred costs do not amount to a good reason to depart. To amount to a good reason, something specific is needed to have happened. The change in the hourly rates did not amount to something specific and had it done so, it would have set a precedent for parties to argue good reason every time rates have been reduced, as it is in many cases.

A more recent decision of an appeal case, Barts Health NHS Trust v Salmon (unreported) (2019)delves further into the matter of good reason and provides authority on departing down from the budget where the phase has not yet been completed. HHJ Dight concluded that, where the phase has not been completed, and the receiving party has claimed less than the total figure for that phase, then this amounts to a good reason to depart from the budgeted figure, in order that the indemnity principle not be breached. Interestingly, HHJ Dight then went on to say that once good reason has been established, then the paying party need not put forward any further good reason when additionally challenging the level of the total figure claimed and attempting to reduce the phase.

This raises some significant questions about the importance of the assumptions of the budget, following approval of the figures at the costs case management conference. The only page required for filing is the front page of the approved budget. However, should it now be required to submit updated assumptions, to reflect what the figures are based on, should any part argue a good reason to depart in relation to whether a phase has been completed. I suspect, as further good reasons become apparent, the use of the assumptions to show what the phase total was based on will become a much more widely used tool, in proving good reasons to depart, where assumptions widely differ from the actual outcome, and could come to benefit both receiving and paying parties, For example, where there has been more work assumed than has actually been undertaken, regardless of a party is claiming the total of the phase, or where the total of the phase is much lower than budgeted, regardless of whether the number of witnesses was much lower than the number anticipated.

There remains uncertainty as to what does amount to a good reason. With some guidance, I suspect there will be many more cases to come; however, will reluctance be shown by Judges to make those decisions given the gravity of those rulings?

Court of Protection Costs – What happens after the death of P?

Upon the death of the Protected Party, the Deputy’s authority under the First General Order seizes with immediate effect. Once the matter is transferred to the Executors of the Estate, the Deputy can agree their costs directly without a need for assessment, if possible, which will generally save the Protected Party money overall, without the need for the assessment process. If this is not possible, it may be necessary to apply to the Court for the costs to be assessed.

The interim work and the costs of the Deputy bringing the matter to a conclusion following the death of the Protected Party have been questioned over the years, as there has been very little guidance on this issue. In many cases, there is reasonable and necessary work involved in preparing the case for the Executor to thereafter deal with the Estate, however, what is a reasonable sum for this work?

Following correspondence with the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO), the following change has been made to the assessment procedure with immediate effect. The SCCO may now allow ‘reasonable costs’ (post death of the Protected Party) in order that the Deputy can finalise his/her involvement in the matter. The SCCO have indicated that such costs should not be expected to exceed £1,500.00 +VAT.

As a result, where it appears that the post-death profit costs exceed £1,500.00 +VAT, the Deputy will require the authority to assess that part of the Bill of Costs. Costs below this amount are likely to be deemed reasonable on assessment but are, of course, subject to the usual assessment process and will be allowed based on what was reasonable, necessary and proportionate in the circumstances.

If you have any queries relating to post-death costs in Court of Protection cases, please do not hesitate to contact Stephanie Kaye.

The OPG105 Form – An Update for Professional Deputies

All professional Deputies should be aware of the OPG105 form (introduced in March 2016) which is required for submission alongside the OPG102 Deputyship Report on an annual basis to the Office of the Public Guardian in general management cases.

When submitting General Management Bills for Assessment to the Senior Courts Costs Office in relation to Deputyship matters, they are now requesting the above information. You may or may not have received notice from the Court stating the following:

“For the attention of Financial Deputies: Following the introduction of the OPG105 form in March 2016, please ensure when submitting general management bills for assessment, copies of the Annual Report/Accounts and Form OPG105 are attached to your bill to be assessed. Thank you for your co-operation in this matter.”

Following the Professional Deputy Costs Good Practice Guidance issued by the OPG and the SCCO in July 2016, it was requested that these documents were filed alongside the Bill of Costs for assessment by the Deputy. It’s apparent that very few Deputies are following this procedure and as such, the Court appear to be reinforcing the message. The guidance states:

“When submitting their bill for assessment, professional Deputies should enclose a copy of the fees estimate previously submitted to OPG. Estimates are not binding on the detailed assessment. If the costs claimed in the bill are 20% or more above the estimate it will also be necessary to provide reasons to the SCCO as to why there is a difference.

Should there be changes in the client’s circumstances during the year (and therefore costs to their estate), the Deputy should alert OPG if the fees are likely to be 20% or more than the submitted estimate. However, it will be for the SCCO to assess the professional Deputy’s costs at the end of the reporting year and for the Deputy to explain any inconsistencies.”

The guidance can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538901/19_07_16_Professional_deputy_costs__FINAL.pdf

If you have any queries in respect of the above information, please do not hesitate to contact Stephanie Kaye, Head of the Court of Protection Costs Team at Clarion Solicitors, at Stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com or alternatively, please call 0113 336 3402.

 

Proportionality in the Court of Protection

You will have all heard about the ‘Jackson Reforms’, which so far, have not been something that Court of Protection practitioners have had to be too concerned about – until now.

As part of the ‘Jackson Reforms’, a new test of proportionality was introduced. Proportionality now trumps reasonableness and ‘necessity’. Even if a cost was reasonable and was necessary, it can be disallowed on the basis of proportionality. The purpose of this reform was to tackle disproportionate claims for costs.

The case of BNM and MGN Limited (see https://clarionlegalcosts.com/2016/06/10/who-needs-fixed-costs/#more-876) is an interesting case to consider in relation to the new test of proportionality, where a bill of costs was reduced from £167,389.45 to £83,964.80 on the basis of proportionality. This is one of the first cases to really demonstrate the power of CPR 44.3 (2) (‘Jackson test of proportionality’), which states:

Where the amount of costs is to be assessed on the standard basis, the court will –

(a) only allow costs which are proportionate to the matters in issue. Costs which are disproportionate in amount may be disallowed or reduced even if they were reasonably or necessarily incurred; and

 (b) resolve any doubt which it may have as to whether costs were reasonably and proportionately incurred or were reasonable and proportionate in amount in favour of the paying party.

 This ‘Jackson test of proportionality’ is something that has primarily been having an impact on civil and commercial claims for costs, however, we (Court of Protection Costs team at Clarion) are now starting to see the new test being applied to Court of Protection cases.

Under the new test, the Senior Courts Costs Office must assess a bill of costs (line by line) and determine what is reasonable. Thereafter, the new test of proportionality can be applied. The Costs Officer has the power to stand back and ask ‘was this a proportionate sum to incur on this matter taking into account all the factors relating to the case’, and in some instances, the answer can lead to significant further reductions to a Bill of Costs.

Going forward, we believe that this is something that will have an impact on Court of Protection cases. Not only will your costs be assessed based on what was reasonably incurred, but the SCCO can also consider other factors, such as the value of the Protected Party’s estate and other non-monetary influences when considering whether the assessed (reasonable amount) is proportionate.

We considered a recent assessment whereby the Protected Party’s estate was worth approximately £46,000.00. The Deputy submitted a bill of costs totalling £12,200.00. The bill was provisionally assessed at £11,500.00, but was thereafter limited to £9,000.00 due to the issue of proportionality, as a result of the value of the estate.

There is no guidance as to what is proportionate in these cases, however, the Costs Officer has the authority to determine what is proportionate at their own discretion. It will be interesting to see how this is applied going forward and whilst this area is still developing, requests for reviews or appeals may be appropriate. Albeit the financial position of the Protected Party is key, other factors such as the conduct of the Protected Party, the complexity of the matter and any key elements (international and business) may be influential in justifying your claim for costs.

If this is something which you require assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact myself or our team at COPCosts@clarionsolicitors.com.