Interesting comments from the MXX v United Lincolnshire NHS Trust case

I posted a blog at the end of June about the case of MXX v United Lincolnshire NHS Trust (2018) (please follow this link to read the blog https://clarionlegalcosts.com/2019/06/25/ensure-consistency-between-your-costs-budget-and-bill-of-costs/).

In the Judgment of Master Rowley, there are some interesting points which I felt were appropriate to cite and share through this separate blog. Those points are as follows:

Master Rowley found that the inflated incurred costs amounted to improper conduct and said the following at paragraphs 57 and 58:

57.      The need to comply with the indemnity principle must be on page 1 of any introduction to the law of costs. It is fundamental throughout the issues regarding what sums can be claimed from one party by another. It is, or should be, engrained in everyone dealing with solicitor’s costs. Whether it is a detailed bill of costs that is being produced, a summary assessment schedule or even simply a breakdown in a letter being provided to the opponent, it is imperative that the costs set out as being payable by the opponent do not exceed the sums payable by the client to their solicitor. The case of Harold v Smith (1850) 5 H. & N. 381 is more than 150 years old but it remains correct that the sum claimed should not be a punishment to an opponent nor a bonus to the client (or solicitor) which is the effect of claiming more costs from the opponent than are payable by the client.

  1. I do not accept that the statement of truth for Precedent H is intended to be a composite statement or one akin to signing an estimate. If that was so, in my Judgement, the Statement would simply say that the document was a fair and accurate estimate of the costs which it would be reasonable and proportionate for the client to incur in litigation. But that is not what it says. It specifically refers to incurred and estimated costs separately and it seems to me that a solicitor signing a Statement of Truth has to consider whether the incurred costs figure is fair and accurate separately from whether the figures for estimated costs are fair and accurate. There is absolutely no reason why the incurred costs figure should not be accurate. There are many reasons to understand that the estimated costs figure is no more than educated guesswork. The change in the hourly rates for future work identified by Irwin Mitchell is one of those reasons.

    The importance of the indemnity principle (which I have blogged on previously and you can find here https://clarionlegalcosts.com/2019/02/12/the-indemnity-principle-what-is-it-is-it-important/) is clearly set out above at paragraph 57 of the Judgment.

    At paragraph 58, it is clear that the signature of a Precedent H should not be taken lightly, it is a statement of truth and is not akin to signing an estimate, the signature on the Precedent H is not intended to be a composite statement. Paragraph 58 also indicates that the courts do not expect the incurred costs to be calculated incorrectly because of the inclusion of any incorrect hourly rate/s. However, the courts would be open to the use of composite rates for estimated costs given that hourly rates could clearly change (both upwards and downwards) over time. If you consider this applies to any budget that you are preparing, then make this clear in the assumptions to your budget, this will provide you with protection on detailed assessment and ensure transparency with the court and your opponent.

In the Judgment, Master Rowley did not find that the significant difference between the costs claimed in the bill and those in the costs budget (144-147 hours) amounted to improper conduct. Master Rowley said the following:

61.      Similarly, I do not think that the claimant’s approach to the amount of hours claimed in the budget and subsequently in the bill founds any significant criticism. My understanding of the limit of 1% of the total budget for the preparation of the precedent H was originally allowed for on the basis that clients would have been billed for the incurred costs by that point and so relatively little work would be needed to consider the incurred costs. If that is correct, it takes no account of matters dealt with under contingency arrangements such as a CFA when no bill will have been rendered by the time the Precedent H is prepared.

  1. It seems to me to be unrealistic to expect a party to vet the time recorded on a line by line basis in the manner suggested by the Defendant here. The bill of costs has taken nearly 100 hours to prepare and that involves a considerable greater sum than would be allowed by 1% of the budget. Whilst I accept Mr Bacon’s comment that the extent of the remuneration is not the touchstone for the effort that should be involved, it does seem to me to be a pointer as to the expectation of the time to be spent in preparing a budget. Most of the time will be spent in the estimation of future costs and much less will be spent in relation to incurred costs. Including items which are unlikely to be recoverable between the parties’ assessment runs a risk of the budgeting judge concluding that those costs are high and commenting about this in the CMO.

  2. I do not think that it can be said to be unreasonable for a solicitor to include in the budget, the time that the various fee earners have recorded on their system as being sums which the client is potentially liable to pay.

  3. Similarly, having considered that time to be vulnerable to challenge on a between the parties’ assessment, it can only be reasonable for the drafter of the bill of costs to exclude such time. Where, as here, the time is extensive, the incurred costs actually claimed between the parties will be significantly reduced. But that does not necessarily mean that something improper has occurred when the budget was prepared, in my view.

Personally, whilst I cannot say that the discrepancy in time was improper, I struggle to accept the Master’s decision that there can be such a large discrepancy on detailed assessment (because the bill drafter excludes time when drafting the bill of costs). It is important that incurred costs are broadly correct in terms of time incurred and absolutely correct in terms of hourly rates. If not, it creates an incorrect starting point on detailed assessment and questions the signature of the costs budget. Furthermore, 1% can be a generous amount when preparing a high value costs budget (A £10 million budget would potentially allow a charge of £100,000 to prepare the costs budget).

The decision of the Master also troubles me for the following reasons:

  1. It is possible to prepare a budget as a bill of costs i.e. prepare a bill of costs which can be converted into a costs budget for the CCMC. Whilst this incurs greater cost, it effectively means that the costs are front-loaded so that the costs for drafting the bill at the conclusion of the matter are much lower.
  2. Lawyers have historically struggled with recording their time (and continue to struggle) in a way that reduces the time required to draft a bill of costs, not to mention time recording by using the phase, task and activity codes. It therefore surprises me that the Master seemed to accept an approach of calculating incurred costs by simply ‘lifting’ time from a time recording ledger. To my mind, time needs to be vetted correctly and incurred costs should not change significantly between those stated in the costs budget and those stated in the bill of costs.
  3. Where a costs management order has been made and the matter proceeds to a JSM or mediation, it can be possible for the parties to agree costs at the JSM or mediation based on the costs management order (Claimant providing some very basic updated figures). If the budget was not based on the accuracy expected within a bill of costs, then any breach of the indemnity principle would not be identified and there is a real risk that costs irrecoverable inter partes would potentially be recovered from the paying party.
  4. Furthermore, the Master’s approach is in real contradiction to the requirements of a document that contains a statement of truth, of which the budget is one of those documents.

    It is therefore imperative that the incurred costs figure is not only calculated correctly in terms of the hourly rate but is calculated correctly (with no significant errors) in relation to inter partes incurred costs. When litigating, each party should be able to proceed on the basis that the incurred costs included in the budget are correct and can be relied upon. Whilst the Claimant substantially reduced the incurred costs in the MXX case (which was to the benefit of the Defendant), it does raise a real question over the costs management process if a party can change their incurred costs figure, which in this instance was by nearly 150 hours.

The aim of this blog was to share some of the wider points which arise from the Judgment of Master Rowley. I would be interested to hear any other people’s views and opinions which can be shared through this blog.

Please note that the case was the subject of an Appeal and I will blog separately (and shortly) in relation to the outcome of the Appeal. The outcome does not impact the points raised in this blog.

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs Litigation Funding Team. He can be contacted at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 336 3334.

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.

 

 

Ensure consistency between your Costs Budget and Bill of Costs

Consistency and a true connection between Costs Management and Detailed Assessment is essential for the successful recovery of costs on Detailed Assessment.

If a costs budget is prepared incorrectly, which creates a disconnection between the costs budget and bill of costs, then you can expect a costs law obstacle course and a heavy migraine on detailed assessment.

The case of MXX -v- United Lincolnshire NHS Trust [2018] is a great example, which is summarised below:

Background, Retainer and Hourly Rates

The Claimant instructed her Solicitors in 2012 and the matter was funded by way of a Conditional Fee agreement with the rate for the conducting lawyer (Grade A) agreed at £335 per hour.

In August 2013 the rate for the conducting lawyer increased to £460 per hour (this was an error). In January 2015 the hourly rate was reduced to £350 (effective from May 2014). It was increased to £360 in 2015 and £365 in 2016.

The substantive proceedings related to a high value injury claim, with quantification being resolved in November 2016. The claim was subject to a Costs Management Order dated 2 March 2015.

Detailed Assessment Proceedings were commenced in March 2017 and the bill of costs totalled circa. £1.3 million.

Background to the Costs Management Order

At the CCMC, the District Judge dealt with estimated costs and correctly stated that the incurred costs were for detailed assessment. The hourly rate included in the costs budget for the conducting lawyer was £465 per hour.

In respect of the estimated costs, the Judge indicated a composite rate of £280 per hour, which the parties then used to agree the estimated costs for each phase.

Discrepancies between Budget and Bill

Following the commencement of detailed assessment proceedings, the Defendant compared the costs budget (Costs Management Order) with the bill of costs and noted the following discrepancies:

  • Substantial differences in relation to hourly rates.The hourly rate included in the costs budget for the conducting fee earner was £465.00 per hour, but in the bill of costs hourly rates of £335.00 and £350.00 were claimed; and
  • The bill of costs included roughly 144 to 147 hours less time for incurred costs than the costs budget.

The Defendant had legitimate concerns and made an Application for an Order pursuant to CPR 44.11, arising out of what the Defendant described as a mis-certification of the Claimant’s costs budget in the substantive proceedings.

Decision

It is well worthwhile reading the Judgment and the very articulate submissions advanced by both parties. This will help you to fully understand the decision, which was as follows:

  1. The Master did not find that the errors regarding the rates for the conducting fee earner (in respect of estimated costs) or the significant time discrepancies in relation to the time included in the costs budget and the bill of costs amounted to improper conduct.
  1. However, the Master did find that there was improper conduct in relation to the inflated rate/s claimed within the budget (as incurred costs).The Master had previously dealt with a case with some similar issues (Tucker v Griffiths & Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust 2017) and decided to apply the same sanction in this case as he did in that case, which was to disallow the items claimed in the bill of costs which related to the Costs Management Order.The Defendant had submitted that the Claimant’s bill of costs should be reduced by 75% due to the errors, but the Master said:“Whilst those behind the Defendant in both cases may have considered the sanction in Tucker to be insufficient, it seemed to me to be the only appropriate sanction. There is nothing wrong with the Bill in terms of the indemnity principle. The problem lies with the budget. I consider it to be entirely appropriate to impose a sanction in respect of the work which caused the problem.That work is the non-phase time spent creating and maintaining the budget. It would be wrong in my view retrospectively to disallow some of the budget itself”.

    The decision in this case (and in the case of Tucker) are both cases which were before Master Rowley at the Senior Courts Costs Office. Another Court/Judge could reach a different conclusion and I certainly expect to see this issue again before the Courts for the following reasons:

Lawyers do not time record consistently within their respective departments and firms, which means that discrepancies between budgets and bills will continue to regularly occur and a different Judge/Master may well adopt a more stringent approach;

Costs Budgets are regularly being prepared by non-specialists and prepared very “late in the day”, which leads to errors; and

There is a misconception that the costs budget is a more flexible document than a bill of costs i.e. the statement of truth to a bill of costs carries more weight than a statement of truth to a bill of costs.It is very important that all lawyers (and law firms) approach Costs Management consistently and understand the importance it has on detailed assessment. If that is done, then it leads to a consistent bill of costs, less obstacles on detailed assessment and no migraine – but maybe a headache!

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding Team. Andrew can be contacted at mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 336 3334

NB There are some other interesting points and views in the Judgment which I will cover in a further blog.

Various Claimants v MGN – Some much needed clarity!

 

Bespoke budgets in multi-party litigation, proportionality, updating the incurred costs included in the budget prior to the CCMC, including the costs of interim hearings in the budget, disapplying the 2% cap for costs management and the resourcing of fee earners were all points that were dealt with at the most recent CCMC in the latest phone hacking cases (Various Claimants including (1) John Leslie (2) Chantelle Houghton v MGN Limited [2018] EWHC 1244 (Ch)).

MULTI-PARTY LITIGATION – The court’s approach to this multi-party litigation avoided the need for multiple costs management hearings for similar claims. The court applied a structure that was similar to a GLO and directions were made regarding managing the costs of the claim. Common and individual costs were split, and Costs Management was dealt with by the application of template budgets for individual costs and common costs. There were 3 categories of claims for the individual costs and the court could order that there be bespoke individual budgets in place of the template budgets. In this decision the court agreed that bespoke budgets were applicable to two of the Claimants, Leslie and Houghton.

THE BUDGET AND PROPORTIONALITY – Chief Master Marsh applied the proportionality test to the Claimants’ budgets commenting that “I would emphasise that the court is not required to have regard to the constituent elements of each budget phase (it may do so) and the court’s task is to decide whether the total for each phase falls within a range of reasonable and proportionate costs…. And the court is not looking to establish what the budget figure should be objectively ascertained, but rather a figure that falls within the applicable range applying the reasonableness and proportionality tests alongside each other.”

“The court must apply both the reasonableness and proportionality tests, but the former may yield to the latter. And, in practice, although PD3E, paragraph 7.3, requires the court to consider each budget phase separately, and therefore to consider the proportionality of each phase total, the task has to be undertaken with an initial overall review of proportionality by reference to the factors in CPR44.3(5)…

The costs in the budget phases must not only be reasonable but must also bear a reasonable relationship with the proportionality factors I have indicated. The proportionality factors that are relevant are to be taken together and given notional weight as a whole. In these cases, the sums in issue are not large for High Court claims when taken in isolation. But when the proportionality factors are put together, the financial value of the claims proves to be relatively unimportant because of the wider factors. The budgets substantially exceed the sums in issue but is not a reason to conclude that the overall budgeted sums and the totals per phase are disproportionate.

It seems to me that the wider factors I have summarised, in particular the public importance and test case factors, will have the effect that if the costs are reasonable they are proportionate. That conclusion chimes with the approach the parties have adopted and avoids the court wielding a concept of uncertain application.”

UPDATING INCURRED COSTS – There was a considerable time period between the date that budgets were required to be filed and when the CCMC was listed. Mr Leslie updated his budget prior to the CCMC to include incurred costs up to 1 May 2018, however the other parties did not. The Master recognised the problems of one party updating the incurred costs and the other parties not, explaining that this approach resulted in Mr Leslie having “ousted the court’s jurisdiction to consider a significant amount of expenditure” and consequently found that “the relevant date for the purposes of incurred costs as being 17 January 2018.”

This can be avoided by agreeing a date that the incurred costs are included up to and in turn obtaining the court’s permission to update the incurred costs.

HOURLY RATES – Chief Master Marsh refused to be drawn into the debate regarding hourly rates and instead considered the allocation of work in the budget between different grades of fee earner and the total figure claimed for each phase was of greater importance.

INTERIM HEARINGS – An amount for specific disclosure had been included in the disclosure phase, the Master found that the inclusion of interim hearings in the budget were wrong in principal as they may be subject to an inter partes costs order, the costs were moved into the contingency phase.

COSTS MANAGEMENT COSTS – The costs associated with costs management are subject to a 2% cap. Chief Master Marsh was asked to consider lifting the cap, he agreed on the basis that the complexities surrounding the multi-party litigation warranted exceptional circumstances in this case.

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

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.