Mis-Certification of a Bill of Costs – Be careful!

Back in May, I posted a Vlog about the SRA’s decision following the Court of Appeal’s Judgment in Gempride v Bamrah [2018] EWCA Civ 1367. You can view that Vlog here.

I was therefore very interested to read the recent decision of Master James in the case of Farmer v The Chief Constable of Lancashire [2019] EWHC B18 (Costs) and to share it with you. Here are the key points:

  1. Mr Farmer (“the Receiving Party”) had the benefit of a costs order against the Defendant (“the Paying Party”).
  2. A Bill of Costs was prepared, and detailed assessment proceedings were commenced. The original Bill of Costs totalled £174,565.79.
  3. There were issues over the validity of Conditional Fee Agreements, recoverability of success fees and incorrect hourly rates which led to the service of an amended bill in the sum of £116,192.50.  That total was also incorrect, and the Court found that the bill should have been drawn in the region of £66,000 to £69,000.
  4. The Bill of Costs had been certified as accurate and true. Certain points/items were also maintained through Replies and a Witness Statement.
  5. Had the Bill of Costs been prepared correctly, then the matter would have been dealt with under the Provisional Assessment scheme. This would have saved substantial time and cost for each party and the Court.
  6. There were also costs included in the Bill of Costs which were not recoverable inter-partes.
  7. The Paying party applied to strike out the remainder of the Bill of Costs, pursuant to CPR 44.11.
  8. The Court struck out the remainder of the Bill of Costs; the Receiving Party was entitled to nothing.
  9. The Receiving Party was ordered to pay the costs of the detailed assessment and re-pay the payments on account received.

In Gempride the penalty reduction was 50%. In this case the penalty reduction was a full strike out of the remainder of the costs (circa. £66,000.00 – £69,000.00).

It is fundamentally important to ensure a Bill of Costs has been prepared correctly before you certify it. Mis-certification of a Bill of Costs is a serious issue.

Mistakes happen and the Court will look more favourably on innocent mistakes which are rectified quickly. In this case, the Receiving Party pursued the matter to detailed assessment and maintained retainers that were clearly not enforceable.  

In my Vlog in May, I provided 5 tips to help ensure that you avoid any mis-certification issues. Please view the Vlog to help you check a Bill of Costs (or a costs budget or statement of costs for summary assessment) correctly and to stay clear of any mis-certification arguments and costs penalties. You might want to use my 5 tips to create an internal check-list.

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

COVID 19 update: face to face hearings

HMCTS are consolidating the work of the courts and tribunals into fewer buildings. It has been announced that from Monday 30 March 2020 there will be a network of priority courts that will remain open during the coronavirus pandemic to make sure the justice system continues to operate effectively.

Fewer than half of all court and tribunal buildings will remain open for physical hearings, with 157 priority court and tribunal buildings remaining open for essential face-to-face hearings. This represents 42% of the 370 crown, magistrates, county and family courts and tribunals across England and Wales.

To help maintain a core justice system that is focused on the most essential cases there will be open courts, staffed courts and suspended courts.

The Judiciary recommend that you check which courts are open before you travel.  For information regarding the category of each court please follow this link.

Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland has said that it is vital that we keep our courts running. and that:

An extraordinary amount of hard work has gone into keeping our justice system functioning. Technology is being used creatively to ensure that many cases can continue. Not everything can be dealt with remotely and so we need to maintain functioning courts.

These temporary adjustments to how we use the court estate will help ensure that we can continue to deal with work appropriately in all jurisdictions whilst safeguarding the well-being of all those who work in and visit the courts”.

Staffed courts will support video and telephone hearings and progress cases without hearings and ensure continued access to justice.

The remaining courts and tribunals will close temporarily and these measures will be kept in place for as long as necessary.

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

 

 

 

 

Third Party Funders – Exposure to Legal Costs

The Court of Appeal has recently handed down its Judgment in the case of Chapelgate Credit Opportunity Master Fund Limited -v- Money and Others [2019], which was an eagerly awaited decision for litigation funders. The outcome of the case is as follows:

The Arkin Cap should be considered when determining costs, but it is not binding on the Courts.

Paragraph 38:

“……..I do not consider that the Arkin approach represents a binding rule. Judges, as it seems to me, retain a discretion and, depending on the facts, may consider it appropriate to take into account matters other than the extent of the funder’s funding and not to limit the funder’s liability to the amount of that funding”

For those unfamiliar with litigation funding and the Arkin Cap, this arises out of the Court of Appeal decision in Arkin -v- Borchard Lines Limited 2005. In that case, a company which had provided third party funding for an unsuccessful claim was ordered to pay the costs of the winning party, but only to the extent of the funding provided. The Arkin Cap has been a principle which has been regularly applied by the Courts since. The decision in Chapelgate will cause uncertainty for litigation funders, in a world which has significantly evolved since 2005.

The Judgment increases the requirement for litigation funders to properly engage costs lawyers. Funders should be engaging costs lawyers to scrutinise a law firm’s legal budget when they are applying for funding. Costs lawyers should also be retained to monitor costs versus budget (including the opponent’s costs) and to advise on costs management orders.

Costs management orders provide more certainty on detailed assessment (unless the order for costs is made on the indemnity basis). Such measures will ensure that the funder has the maximum control possible on both the costs of the firm they are funding and the opponent’s legal costs; the latter being important in the event that an adverse order for costs is made.


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

Estimating your legal costs – Why?

Not only is it prudent and good practice, but it is essential that clients are regularly provided with estimates of their potential legal costs and are appraised in that regard.

The SRA require lawyers to provide their clients with the best possible information regarding the cost of the matter. This should be provided at the outset and reviewed and updated as and when necessary. Estimates of costs up to a particular stage are inadequate to meet the SRA requirements, an estimate of costs up to the conclusion of the claim is required.

The SRA requires lawyers at the outset to analyse whether pursuing the claim is commercially viable. Does the outcome justify the risk of having to pay someone else’s fees? So, an explanation needs to be given to the client of the likely costs of the claim, to include both party’s costs and whether the claim is worth pursuing in view of that. This should be reviewed throughout the lifetime of the claim and updated if appropriate. The reasoning is that the client should be able to make a fully informed decision when deciding to pursue litigation, a partial estimate does not allow this.

This is good practice in any event as it ensures that your client’s expectations are managed and will lead to no surprises. This transparency can lead to less disputes regarding the level of fees and the avoidance of any complaints in law firms which centre around fees.

The type or complexity of the claim will really depend on how sophisticated the estimate will need to be, however scoping the work properly will alleviate any scope creep.

Moreover, preparing an estimate of how much you consider that the claim will cost will assist regarding your approach, a more informed decision can be made regarding this. Providing this information does show confidence in pricing and in any event this more sophisticated pricing is being seen in the marketplace.

In the event of scope creep, a detailed estimate can assist and justify those further costs that are associated with the additional work. It is wise to keep your client informed if any of the out of scope work is not recoverable from the otherside, failure to do so may put you at risk regarding those additional costs.

In addition to identifying out of scope work, it is sensible to monitor your estimate and advise the client if the estimate is subject to change. If a detailed estimate has been provided at the outset it will be much easier to explain why the estimate requires increasing.

The draconian sanctions and restrictions surrounding budgets do not apply to estimates, the estimates are used as a yardstick to measure reasonableness. It is not intended to be straight jacket, that said, they do need to be prepared with care because if the client can show reliance and the matter proceeds to solicitor and own client assessment then your costs are at risk of a reduction as a result of that reliance.

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

 

The latest Precedent H guidance notes

The precedent H guidance notes have never aligned with the precedent S guidance notes (Phases and Tasks Reference and Lookup table in Precedent S (bill of costs)) until the update to the precedent H guidance notes which was made last month, this update has addressed some of those discrepancies.

Please find below the amendments that have been made to the guidance notes:

Pre-action: The precedent H guidance notes states that settlement discussions, advising on settlement and Part 36 offers before proceedings were issued are to be included in the Preaction phase. However, in the Precedent S guidance these discussions are included in the ADR/Settlement phase (task “Other Settlement Matters”) . The precedent H guidance notes must be followed therefore any preaction settlement discussions should be included in the preaction phase. 

Issue/statements of case: The precedent H guidance notes have been amended to include “amendments to statements of case” in this phase, the previous guidance stated that these should be excluded from this phase. This amendment has resulted in alignment with the Precedent S guidance. 

CMC: The precedent H guidance notes have been amended to include any further CMCs that have been built into the proposed directions order whereas previously the notes stated that any additional CMCs were not to be included in this phase. The position remains regarding any estimated CMCs that have not been proposed in the directions order, these are to be included as a contingent cost. Any disclosure work, i.e. list of disclosure issues, EDQ  should be included in the disclosure phase.  

Budget – The costs in relation to this phase includes inconsistencies which present numerous difficulties. The Precedent H Guidance Notes includes “correspondence with opponent to agree directions and budgets, where possible”, and “preparation for, and attendance at, the CMC”. The same applies in relation to the PTR phase, which includes “preparation of updated costs budgets and reviewing opponent’s budget”, “correspondence with opponent to agree directions and costs budgets, if possible” and “preparation for and attendance at the PTR”. While the precedent H guidance note specifically excludes preparation of the costs budget for the first CMC, it doesn’t specifically exclude preparation of Precedent R. The Precedent S description of this task is “work on budgeting between the parties following initial completion of the first budget, including the monitoring of costs incurred against the budget and any applications for variation of the budget” –  it doesn’t mention the drafting of Precedent R and seems to relate to work post CMC.

Furthermore, in para 7.2 of PD3E the 2% cap relates to all recoverable costs of the budgeting and costs management process other than the recoverable costs of initially completing the Precedent H. If some costs budgeting items are included in the CMC and PTR phases (i.e. following the Precedent H Guidance Note), practically how is the 2% figure on the front page of Precedent H calculated? Should it include the budgeting items which appear in the CMC and PTR phases of Precedent H, or is it exclusive of them? And, what exactly is meant by “budget process” in relation to this 2% cap?

Unfortunately there is no guidance regarding the budget process or “associated material” that is referred to in the guidance notes – does this include composite summaries, breakdowns of costs?

One solution for this phase is to time record in line with the precedent S guidance notes and then when it comes to preparing the budget assess what aspects of the % cap belongs in the CCMC stage. If the time is recorded as CCMC it is a more onerous task to ascertain what element of the CCMC phase is relevant to the % cap.

Trial: The guidance note has been amended to now include counsel’s brief fee in the trial preparation phase rather than the trial phase. 

Settlement phase: The precedent H guidance note previously excluded mediation from this phase, this has now been amended to include mediation. 

Definition of budgeted and incurred costs – CPR 3.15 and PD 3E para 7.4 Incurred costs are now all costs incurred up to and including the date of the first costs management order, unless otherwise ordered. Budgeted costs are all costs to be incurred after the date of the first costs management order.

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.

Court of Protection Costs – Types of Assessments for your Costs.

The previous blog in this series focused on the process of what goes into a Bill of Costs in the Court of Protection world. This blog will instead look at the process of an assessment in the Court of Protection and the different types of assessment that can occur.

Firstly, authority for the cost’s assessment must be established, as all Orders as to costs are at the discretion of the Court of Protection. There are three main methods of evaluating costs; agreed costs, fixed costs and summary/detailed assessment of Costs.

  • Agreed Costs

These kinds of costs Order are not regularly available in Court of Protection cases. As a principle, all bills of costs must be assessed, except where fixed costs are available. However, the Court may authorise parties to agree costs, where appropriate to do so. This is often used upon the death of a Protected Party whereby the Deputy is expected to agree costs with the Executor of the estate.

  • ­Fixed Costs

­Found within Practice Direction 19B, fixed costs are available to solicitors and professionals acting as Deputy. The general rule is that costs of the proceedings should be paid by P or charged to their estate, but this rule can be departed from.

In Cases where fixed costs are not appropriate, professional Deputies may, if preferred, apply to the SCCO for a detailed assessment of costs. However, this does not apply if P’s net assets are below £16,000. In these cases, the option for detailed assessment will only arise if the Court makes a specific order.

  • Detailed Assessment

The detailed assessment of costs under Orders or Directions of the Court of Protection is dealt with in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules. Professional Deputies should lodge a request for detailed assessment with the SCCO (not the Court of Protection or the Office of Public Guardian) using the N258B (request for detailed assessment), accompanied by:

  • The bill of costs;
  • Documents giving the right to detailed assessment;
  • Copies of all the orders;
  • Fee notes of counsel or experts;
  • Details of other disbursements;
  • Postal Address of any person who has a financial interest in the outcome of assessment;
  • Relevant assessment fee (£115 or £225);
  • The OPG105 (if applicable).

Part 27 of the Practice Direction 17.2(2) states that cases over £100,000.00, complex or other cases are to be dealt with by a Master. The relevant papers in support of the bill must only be lodged if requested by the Master.

Once the bill of costs is lodged in the correct manner, the Costs Officer will review the bundle of documents and assess the costs. The Costs Officer will review the bill of costs alongside the files of papers and decide whether costs have been reasonably, necessarily and proportionately incurred, making reductions, where necessary based on relevant case law and judicial decisions. The bill of costs is thereafter returned to the Deputy for consideration.

Clarion can also assist with requests for reassessment if the outcome is not as expected. If you would like further information about this process, then please do not hesitate to get in contact.

Joshua Sidding is a Paralegal in the Court of Protection Team of the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at Joshua.sidding@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 222 3245, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

You can also take advantage of our free telephone advice service – available outside of office hours – by calling 07764 501252.