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.

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What role does the hourly rate play in the budget?

This continues to spark debate. The rules states that the hourly rate cannot be set (CPR 3 PD 3E, para 7.10), but further explain that the constituent elements of the budget should be considered when assessing the amount to approved (CPR 3 PD 3E, para 7.3). So, with the hourly rate falling under the umbrella of a ‘constituent element’ the hourly rate can be taken into account, but importantly, not fixed. There will usually be a number of factors that contribute to a reduction of the budget and on occasions the level of the hourly rate may be one of those contributing factors.

Parties are often working blind in respect of the logic that the case management Judge applied. If the court did take the hourly rate into account when reducing the amount of estimated costs sought, and no evidence exists to support the Judge’s thought process, what happens when the costs are finally assessed?

At the moment there is conflicting case law in this regard.

In RNB v London Borough of Newham [2017] EWHC B15 (Costs) Deputy Master Campbell said “If (as it is the case) the hourly rate is a mandatory component in Precedent H which is not and cannot be subjected to the rigours of detailed assessment at the CCMC, it makes no sense if it is automatically left untouched when the rates for the incurred work are scrutinised at the ‘conventional’ assessment.”

“Such an approach would offend against the guidance given in Harrison at paragraph 44. Indeed, as [counsel for the defendant] points out, it is only on that occasion that a paying party has an opportunity to challenge the rate.”

This was therefore a “good reason” to depart from the costs allowed in the claimant’s last approved budget.”

However in  Nash v Ministry of Defence [2018] EWHC B4 (Costs) –  Master Nagalingam found that “a reduction in hourly rates of the incurred costs is not a good reason to depart from the budget in respect of the budgeted (future) costs”.

And finally, in Jallow v Ministry of Defence [2018] EWHC B7 (Costs) Master Rowley found “that there is no good reason to depart from the budget by virtue of the reduction to the hourly rates in this case”.

How can the legal profession employ the rules as currently drafted? Is it possible to gain clarity and a clearer view of the blind logic/working approach adopted by the Judges? If, during the course of the CMC, the Judge does comment on the hourly rate, ask him/her to record a note on the case management order that the hourly rate was considered when approving the budget and that it played a role in the reduction to the rates.

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

 

 

The Hourly Rate Debate: the effect of costs management on hourly rates

There has recently been a flurry of case law in respect of the effect of costs management on hourly rates at detailed assessment.

With regard to costs management, there are two rules of central importance, both contained within Practice Direction 3E:-

Para 7.3 provides that “The court’s approval will relate only to the total figures for budgeted costs of each phase of the proceedings, although in the course of its review the court may have regard to the constituent elements of each total figure. When reviewing budgeted costs, the court will not undertake a detailed assessment in advance, but rather will consider whether the budgeted costs fall within the range of reasonable and proportionate costs.”

CPR PD 3E (7.10), which states that It is not the role of the Court in the costs management hearing to fix or approve the hourly rates claimed… the underlying detail… is provided for reference purposes only”.

As to Detailed assessment, the relevant rule is Part 44.3(1), which provides that:-

Regardless of the basis upon which costs are assessed “…the court will not in either case allow costs which have been unreasonably incurred or are unreasonable in amount”.

The starting point is the judgment in Harrison -v- University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust [2017] EWCA Civ 792, which held that where there is an approved budget, the court is empowered to sanction a departure from the budget if it considers that there is good reason to do so. What the judgment did not say is that the figure allowed for a particular phase in a costs management order will be allowed unless there is good reason to depart from it. The distinction is subtle, but important.

Following a month later, the judgment in RNB -v- London Borough of Newham [2017] EWHC B15 (Costs) gave guidance on how the Court would approach hourly rates in the context of a costs management order. In RNB it was held that if hourly rates were reduced on assessment, that reduction would apply to all of the costs claimed, whether they were incurred pre- or post- the costs management order.

In Bains -v- Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, 18th August 2017, The County Court at Birmingham (Unreported), District Judge Lumb expressly disagreed with the position in RNB and found that “to reduce hourly rates for budgeted costs to the same levels as those allowed for the incurred costs… would be to second guess the thought process of Costs Managing Judge and would impute a risk of double jeopardy...”

In the absence of a report or transcript, we do not know what reasoning underpinned the judge’s finding in Bains. What is clear is that a central assumption to the finding in Bains was that the judge at costs management may have accounted for a reduction to hourly rates when making the costs management order. It could be said that such an assumption would be tantamount to a finding that the judge at costs management had breached CPR PD 3E (7.10), by in effect setting the hourly rates when making the costs management order. It might well be argued that such an assumption was unreasonable.

Furthermore, the judgment in Bains explicitly states that there is a risk of double jeopardy; in other words, that the judge on assessment may have considered a reduction to hourly rates when making the costs management order. At least on a standard basis assessment, CPR 44.3(2)(b), any doubt as to whether the court on costs management had done so should be resolved in favour of the paying party. Thus in the absence of an explicit finding that the judge on costs management had factored in a reduction to the hourly rates, the court on assessment should assume that they did not.

A little later, in Nash -v- Ministry of Defence [2018] EW Misc B4 (CC), Master Nagalingam of the Senior Courts Costs Office held that a reduction to hourly rates in respect of the incurred costs would not be a ‘good reason’ to depart from the budget for future costs. This has led to some litigants arguing that where there is a Costs Management Order, so long as the party is within budget for the given phase, a reduction to hourly rates will not ‘carry through’ to the future costs in the budget. It is important to recognise that, in Nash, the receiving party’s budget had been agreed.

The central question here is whether or not a reduction to hourly rates is a ‘departure’ from the costs management order. As stated above, hourly rates are not to be fixed or set by the court on costs management. Therefore, if the hourly rates do not form a part of the costs management order, a reduction to hourly rates for ‘future’ costs cannot be said to be a departure from it. By analogy, an additional liability (such as an ATE premium, which is recoverable in Clinical Negligence matters) does not form a part of the budget, and therefore a reduction to such a premium does not constitute a departure.

It is also important to note that CPR PD 3E 7.3 provides that the purpose of costs management is for the court to identify a range of costs which it considers to be reasonable and proportionate for the conduct of the claim. However, the fact that a costs management order has been made does not justify a party incurring costs which are individually unreasonable so long as they fall within budget. In the context of hourly rates, therefore, if it is found that an hourly rate of say £450 per hour is unreasonable, then that hourly rate is unreasonable regardless of whether the work was done before or after the costs management order was made.

Some commentators have argued that the judgments in Bains and Nash are an attempt by the Courts to implement the intention of Jackson LJ to remove the need for detailed assessment. Returning to Harrison, Davis LJ commented that the case had “descended into a kind of arms race in collecting views or comments… with an aim of… extracting some kind of clue as to what [had been] intended…” when the rules were drafted. Importantly he went on to comment “this is beside the point… what we have to do is construe the wording of [the CPR]”. It is quite clear that, in the judgment of the Court of Appeal, it is not the function of the Court to decide what the intention behind the rules was, but only to interpret what the Rules mean and how they apply to the facts.

The difficulty faced by litigators and judges at present is that the rules are unclear, and there is little guidance as to how they should be implemented. This results in a lack of clarity and certainty when proceeding to assessment of costs. In my opinion, there are two potential routes by which the rules might be improved:-

  1. The detailed approach

The Precedent H is amended to remove reference to hourly rates and time. There could then be no question of the assessing judge taking hourly rates into account. As the court cannot set the hourly rates in any event, this should have no practical impact upon the making of costs management orders; the judge on costs management will have a feel for the case and will be fully qualified to consider the work which needs to be done in each phase and make a judgment as to the amount of costs which it would be reasonable and proportionate to incur in doing it.

  1. The summary approach

The court is empowered to set rates at costs management, and also to make a judgment in relation to incurred costs. Under this system, the judge would summarily consider the costs already incurred in the litigation and include within the costs management order what each party will be allowed at the conclusion in respect of the costs already incurred. The court will set a limit for future costs, and the successful party is entitled at the conclusion of the litigation to the amount allowed by the court in respect of incurred costs, plus all amounts incurred after the costs management order so long as they are less than the budget.

The first approach would continue to provide for a detailed assessment at the conclusion of the proceedings, the second approach would not. Of course, the problem with the second approach is that it could give rise to unfairness as parties would not be able to deal with their opponents’ costs in detail.

What is clear is that under the current rules, there is significant doubt over how they should be interpreted, and we will have to wait and see whether this doubt will be rectified by the rules or by binding judgments in the courts.

Matthew Rose is a Solicitor in the Costs and Litigation Funding department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at matthew.rose@clarionsolicitors.com, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.

Sue Fox considers the practical effect of the Harrison budgeting decision

In the eagerly awaited decision in Harrison v University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust [2017] WECA Civ 792 (seearticle, page 8), the key findings of the Court of Appeal were that (1) budgeted costs will not be departed from in the absence of a ‘goodreason’; (2) incurred costs do not form part of the budgeted costs; and (3) the good reason test does not apply to those incurred costs. So, what does this decision mean in practice, and what further observations can we make?

Of particular interest is how the courts will deal with ‘incurred costs’. During the Court of Appeal case, thecourt’s attention was drawn to incurred costs when the respondent presented what was described by Davis LJ as ‘an ingenious argument’ regarding incurred costs being potentially approved ‘through the back door’ at the budgeting stage. The respondent submitted that: ‘The incurred costs will have acquired a special status:
in that, while not “approved” as such, they will have been taken into account by the court at the costs management hearing in managing the future estimated costs.’ Please click here to read the full article.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of Costs Budgeting 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.

 

The importance of the precedent H Costs Budget! Harrison on appeal – no second bite of the cherry.

Jacqueline Dawn Harrison v University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust [2017] WECA Civ 792 – the Court of Appeal has found that the budgeted costs will not be departed from in the absence of a “good reason”. Davis LJ further found that incurred costs do not form part of the budgeted costs and the good reason test does not apply to those incurred costs. Davis LJ confirmed that the proportionality test can be applied to the final claim for costs. This is despite the proportionality test having been applied when the costs budget was approved, this may result in claims for costs being subject to detailed assessment on the issue of proportionality alone.

Davis LJ summarised the Applicant’s submissions regarding what reliance should be placed on the budget at detailed assessment, as follows:

“The premise underpinning Mr Hutton’s argument thus was that CMOs in effect are but summary orders which at best give no more than a snapshot of the estimated range of reasonable and proportionate costs: often reached, as Mr Hutton would have it, on a broad brush or rough and ready judicial approach after a hearing which would have been limited in time, rushed in argument and incomplete in the information advanced”.

Davis LJ considered this to be a sceptical appraisal, commenting:

“that to sanction, at detailed assessment, a departure from the budget in the absence of good reason would overlook (among other things) that budgeted costs are already required to have regard both to reasonableness and to proportionality; that the aims of costs budgeting include a reduction in detailed assessments and of issues raised in points of dispute; and that the element of certainty to clients (in the form of knowing what costs they are likely to face, in terms of payment or recovery) would be removed.

Moreover, if approval of a costs budget by a CMO has the more limited status which the appellant would ascribe to it then that would have a potentially adverse impact on parties thereafter attempting to agree matters without requiring a detailed assessment.  Although Mr Hutton queried if that was one of the perceived prospective benefits of the costs budgeting scheme, it seems to me – as it did to the editors of Cook on Costs – wholly obvious that it was indeed designed to be one of the prospective benefits of cost budgeting that the need for, and scope of, detailed assessments would potentially be reduced.”

The court’s attention was then drawn to incurred costs. The respondent presented what was described by Davis LJ as an ingenious argument to the court regarding incurred costs being potentially, in essence, approved ‘through the back door’. The respondent submitted that:

the incurred costs will have acquired a special status: in that, while not “approved” as such, they will have been taken into account by the court at the costs management hearing in managing the future estimated costs.”

Davis LJ disagreed and found that:

With respect, this will not do.  Either incurred costs are within the ambit of CPR 3.18 (b) or they are not.  Since they are not approved budgeted costs, by the terms of paragraph 7.4 of PD 3E and of the Rules, they are not within that sub-rule.”

Davis LJ recognised that practical problems remained surrounding incurred costs and advised that the CPR committee’s intention was to amend the rules to decouple incurred costs from budgeted costs.

In summary, a good reason is required to depart from the budget, the proportionality test can be applied to budgeted costs, thus a reason to escape the restrictions of the budget; incurred costs should be considered in isolation to the budgeted costs and the rules still require amendments regarding incurred costs to ensure that costs management works.

It is therefore essential that an accurate budget is presented to the court, this Court of Appeal decision has ruled that a budget cannot be departed from unless there is a good reason to do so, this is a difficult test to overcome. There is no second bite of the cherry.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of Costs Budgeting 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.

 

“Costs budgets are now working better”………

 

At this years’ APIL conference it was said that “Costs budgets are now working better”………

Thanks to Gordon Exall and Rachel Rothwell for tweeting interesting and salient comments and quotes made at this years’ APIL conference. Those tweets included – “Harrison is coming any day”, “Merrix may largely be upheld with clarification of incurred costs”, “costs budgets are now working better”………  To read a few of those comments please click here.

Thanks again to Rachel and Gordon for their continued devotion to provide updates
on costs law.

Sue Fox is the Head of Costs Budgeting 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.

 

Calling trumps: Sue Fox on how the court has laid its cards on the table over costs management. The interaction between costs budgeting and costs assessment – Merrix v Heart of England NHS, the appeal of the first instance ruling.

The interaction between costs budgeting and costs assessment has been considered again in Merrix v Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust [2017] EWHC 346 (QB) – the appeal of a first Merrix v Heart of England NHS instance ruling.

Mrs Justice Carr found that the court will have ‘regard to the receiving party’s last approved or agreed budget by respecting it or finding that there is a good reason to depart from it’……………………………………………

………………………….. So, the question to be answered is – will a receiving party’s costs
be allowed in full if they are less than the budget? Yes – for now! The Merrix decision confirms that any departure from the budget applies to both downward and upward revisions, hence parties have to show a good reason to depart from the budget.

Does Mrs Justice Carr’s finding in Merrix deny the paying parties an opportunity to challenge potentially unreasonable costs, despite it being their responsibility for the costs of challenging those costs? At the moment – yes.

Is it ‘just’ for the receiving party to request their costs in full simply because they have been incurred and fall within the parameters of the budget? What safety mechanism is in place to ensure that any receiving party does not include unreasonable and disproportionate costs in their claim for costs, simply justified on the basis that they ‘fall within budget’?

Mrs Justice Carr felt that the indemnity principle was sufficient, though perhaps it is not – unreasonable costs can be claimed from the client, hence the need for Solicitors Act assessments. Or alternatively, the client may have little regard to the constraints of the budget and request that ‘out of scope’ or disproportionate and unreasonable costs are incurred in any event.

How can restraints be imposed on a spendthrift client with deep pockets, and at the same time discourage a paying party from being overzealous in their requests for detailed assessment? Perhaps the introduction of the ‘one-fifth rule’ to costs budgeted cases could be the answer. This shares the burden of the costs consequences, rather than the traditional costs shifting rule. If the bill is reduced by more than 20%, then the receiving party is responsible for those costs rather than the paying party, but if the paying party secures less than a 20% reduction to the bill, then they become responsible for those costs.

This should encourage all parties to think seriously about committing to detailed assessment, rather than the onus being on the paying party. Not only does this tie in nicely with the rules for Solicitors Act assessments, but it is also in line with the rules surrounding provisional assessment relating to the recoverability of costs for an oral
hearing (see article, page 10). Further, it embraces Jackson’s intention to reduce the number of detailed assessments, and at the same time does not deprive parties the opportunity to challenge the costs. Just a thought.

Is this the end? Perhaps only for now. Mrs Justice Carr requested that if this decision were to be appealed, then it should be heard together with any existing listings covering the same point of principle.

In her decision, she referred to Harrison, which was soon to be heard in the Court of Appeal. The Harrison decision is listed for May, and so the paying party in Merrix may be running out of time to get this listed together with Harrison – but we await with interest.

Please click here to read the full article which was published in the April edition of the Litigation Funding magazine.

Sue Fox is the Head of Costs Budgeting 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.