Revising Precedent H Costs Budgets – Don’t delay

Revising Precedent H Costs Budgets

Don’t delay in applying to revise your Costs Budget if a significant development has occurred in your litigation, and on those occasions where there may have been a delay don’t shy away from applying.

It is not left to a party to choose whether to revise its budget and to take its chances on a detailed assessment, parties must apply to revise their budget if there has been a significant development in the litigation – Sharp -v- Blank & Ors [2017] EWHC 3390 (Ch) (21 December 2017) (hereafter Sharp).

In the event that there has been a significant development in the litigation, parties are not able to defer the determination of additional incurred costs to detailed assessment – those incurred costs form part of the request for additional costs:

Master Marsh “I do not consider the rules and practice direction intended that only certain elements of the costs relating to significant developments must be dealt with as revisions with the other elements, those pre-dating the hearing or, on another view those pre-dating the application, being dealt with on a detailed assessment. This approach would run contrary to the purposes of costs management and lead to unnecessary fragmentation of the costs dealt with at a detailed assessment.

Master Marsh found that the costs incurred from the costs management order and up to the application to revise the Cost Budget were not incurred costs for the purpose of the revision, they were future costs. Master Marsh focussed on the language of the CPR referring to the choice of the use of “future” rather than “budgeted costs”, as follows:

The language used in paragraph 7.6 is of critical importance because it provides the jurisdiction, on the defendants’ case to make the revisions they seek. It is notable that the language is at variance with the remainder of the rules and PD3E. It refers throughout to the revision of a “budget” (not, in accordance with the new wording, “budgeted costs”). It is explicit, however, that revision is in respect of future costs. The final sentence of this paragraph gives the court a discretion to approve, vary or disapprove the revisions “… having regard to any significant developments which have occurred since the date when the previous budget was approved or agreed”. On one view, such language points towards the last approved or agreed budget being the jumping off point for a revision because it is the budget that is being revised”.

Master Marsh concluded that the “Costs which have been incurred since the date of the last agreed or approved budget (or the antecedent date) that relate to significant developments are, for the purposes of revision, placed in the estimated columns of the revised Precedent H in one or more phase. In some cases, it may not be obvious where they go (for example a late application for security for costs) but I can see no reason why Precedent H may not be adapted as necessary to accommodate work that does not easily fit in”.

He also considered that there would be a degree of retrospectivity if the costs management regime was to work.

It is essential that you apply to revise your Costs Budget if a significant development has occurred in your litigation, to not do so puts you at risk of not being able to recover any costs that are in excess of your budget.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of Costs Management in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3389, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

 

 

Yirenki v Ministry of Defence [2018] 11 WLUK 53 – Are hourly rates a good reason to depart from the budget?

When budgeting cases, the Civil Procedures Rules (CPR) under Practice Direction (PD) 3E para.7.3 provides that, when the Court is approving figures, the approval should “only relate to the total figures for budgeted costs of each phase”.

In this claim, upon costs management, the Judge approved both a number of hours for each phase, as well as individual disbursements in the budget. This approach is clearly contrary to the CPR. Parties often reserve the position in relation to their incurred costs, and the hourly rates on the incurred costs, to be dealt with at detailed assessment. Interestingly, Master Davison reserved the issue of the hourly rates for the future costs to also be dealt with at detailed assessment.

Reduction to the hourly rates

Now, we know from the case of Jallow v Ministry of Defence [2018] EWHC B7 (Costs) that, where there has been a reduction to the hourly rates for the incurred work, this is not a good reason to depart from the budgeted costs. Master Davison clearly differs in his opinion, given that he has reserved the position of the hourly rates specifically for the estimated costs.

This decision has since been appealed and has, not surprisingly, been allowed. It was said by Mr Justice Jacobs QC that the approach of Master Davison was contrary to the CPR. Relying on rule CPR 3.15(2)(b) specifically, he provided that the correct approach is clearly that the approved figure is meant to be a final figure, rather than a provisional one which the other side could later attempt to reduce.

Mr Justice Jacobs QC advised that the cost budgeting process is not meant to be a detailed assessment in advance and that the job of the Court is to approve a proportionate figure which can be relied on. The principle of reserving the position as to the hourly rates of the budgeted figures weakens the reliance that can be placed on the budget itself, supporting the case of Jallow v Ministry of Defence  [2018] EWHC B7 (Costs), in that hourly rates are not a good reason to depart from the budgeted figures.

 

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?

Good news for those that prepare an accurate costs budget

Following on from the Court of Appeal decision in Jacqueline Dawn Harrison v University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust [2017] WECA Civ 792 where the Court of Appeal found that:

  • The budgeted costs will not be departed from in the absence of a “good reason”;
  • Incurred costs do not form part of the budgeted costs;
  • The good reason test does not apply to those incurred costs;
  • The proportionality test can be applied to the final claim for costs, despite the proportionality test having been applied when the costs budget was approved.

As predicted, we have seen that in practical terms this is good news for those that prepare accurate budgets, but not so for those that don’t. The practical implications of this Court of Appeal decision has an impact on the recovery of your legal fees, as follows:

If the budget has not been exceeded:

  • The budgeted costs will be allowed in full unless a good reason is demonstrated to depart from the budget;
  • A detailed assessment of the budgeted costs can be avoided.

If the budget has been exceeded:

  • The budgeted costs will be restricted to the amount of the budgeted costs that were approved, unless good reason can be demonstrated to depart from the budget.

Win win for those with well prepared budgets. In addition, following approval of the budget, further consideration should be given to the budget throughout the lifetime of the claim. Examples of which are as follows:

Q1. Is it necessary to consider the budget in preparation for the trial?

Answer – yes.

If you win and your budget has not been exceeded:

  • Ask the court to order that the budgeted costs claimed are allowed in full;
  • Only incurred costs will be assessed by way of detailed assessment;
  • If the trial is less than one day, ask the court to summary assess the incurred costs. The court may assess the budgeted costs, however if the costs fall within budget, these should be allowed in full. Present your budgeted costs in phases to demonstrate to the court that the budget has not been exceed on a phase by phase basis;
  • Assess any potential good reasons that your opponent may raise to depart downwards from your budget and be ready to defend those arguments;
  • Ask for a payment on account of the incurred costs, these remaining costs being subject to assessment.

If you win and your budget has been exceeded:

  • If no good reason can be demonstrated to depart from your budget, the court should limit your claim for costs to the approved budget amounts;
  • Therefore establish a good reason to depart from the budget so that the costs can be assessed by way of detailed assessment rather than being restricted to the approved amount of the budget. This will provide you more of an opportunity to justify your costs and overspends;
  • Request a payment of the approved costs, payable within 14 days;
  • Request a payment on account of the remaining incurred costs, payable within 14 days.

If you lose and your opponent’s budget has been exceeded, their budgeted costs should be limited to the budget:

  • The winner can obtain costs in excess of the budget if they can show a good reason to depart from the budget, so be ready so defend any good reasons that the winner may raise to depart from the budget.

If you lose and your opponent’s budget has not been exceeded, their budgeted costs should be limited to the budget:

  • A good reason is required to depart from the budget, therefore if you can identify a good reason to depart from the winner’s budget you can secure a reduction to the winner’s budgeted costs.

Q2. What are examples of a good reason?

Answer – examples of a good reason to depart down are:

  • Did the winner undertake all the work that was provided for in the budget?
  • Were there any adverse costs orders, amount needs to be excluded from the budget?
  • Proportionality test – does the proportionality test that was applied at the CCMC require revisiting?

Q3. Why raise those good reasons at the trial?

Answer

  • Defers the assessment of costs to detailed assessment, if deemed beneficial;
  • Minimises the amount of the payment on account;
  • Minimise the amount of budgeted costs payable.

Remember, incurred costs are subject to detailed assessment in the normal way – ensure that the court is aware that this is only applicable to budgeted costs.

Q4. What role does the budget have in securing a Payment on Account?

Answer – the court will scrutinise the amount that was approved in the budget when determining the amount of the payment on account.

  • If the court refuses to order the payment of your budgeted costs in full, and opts to order a payment on account instead, request the following amounts:
    • Thomas Pink Ltd v Victoria’s Secret UK Ltd [2014] EWHC 3258 (Ch) (31 July 2014) – POA of 90% of budget;
    • Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd v Sarens (UK) Ltd [2018] EWHC 827 (TCC) – POA of 70% incurred costs and 90% estimated costs.
  • Be ready to defend any good reason to depart from the budget that your opponent may raise, this will assist in securing the maximum payment on account, conversely remember to raise any good reason arguments to depart down if you are payer rather than payee.

Q5. What role does the budget have at the mediation or settlement meeting?

Answer – the budget enables parties to be fully aware of their costs exposure, so an informed decision can be made when determining whether to settle. Update the budget for the ADR meeting so that costs may be agreed at the same time and be ready with the same arguments in terms of departure from the budget that would be applied at the trial.

Any questions? Please contact me at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com or call me on 0113 336 3389.