THIRD PARTY FUNDING – A VIABLE OPTION FOR 21st CENTURY LITIGATION (Part 1)

This series of blog articles will address the increasing viability of third party funding as an alternative to traditional litigation funding methods. It will look at how the law has developed historically and how the Court now approaches third party funding and the potential liability of third party funders.

The first part of this series will explore how the Court’s attitude to third party funding has changed significantly from the 19th through to the 21st Century.

Champerty and Maintenance

The historic position taken by the Court in respect of third party funding was that it was illegal and tortious. Two offences had developed through the common law: champerty and maintenance.

Champerty referred to when a person who did not have a legal interest in the matter provided financial assistance to litigation in order to receive a share of the profits.

Maintenance was the procurement of direct or indirect financial assistance from another in order to carry on, or defend, proceedings without lawful justification (British Cash & Parcel Conveyors v Lamson Store Service Co [1908]).

Therefore, the default position was that such agreements, which would be considered third party funding arrangements today, would be considered illegal, tortious and unenforceable. However, even at the turn of the 20th Century, the courts were willing to find such arrangements enforceable as a matter of public policy. For instance, in insolvency proceedings, which by their very nature meant that one party would need financial assistance in order to carry on or defend proceedings (Seear v Lawson (1880)), the Court found that a third party funding agreement was enforceable.

Abolition

The default position changed with the enactment of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (CLA 1967). S.13 CLA 1967 abolished the offences and torts of champerty and maintenance. S.14 CLA 1967 changed the approach of the test, which now started from the presumption that such agreements were enforceable, unless there was a valid reason as a matter of public policy.

Comment

Statutory intervention was important to provide additional certainty and security to parties wishing to enter into third party funding arrangements. However, such an approach cannot be taken for granted outside of the jurisdiction of England and Wales.

Recently, the Supreme Court in Ireland, in the matter of Persona Digital Telephony Ltd v The Minister for Public Enterprise (2017), found a third party funding agreement to be unlawful. This is because the offences of Champerty and Maintenance have not been abolished by statute In Ireland. The Court felt that it is consequentially bound to find such agreements unlawful and that any change of approach was within the remit of the Legislator, not the Judiciary.

In the next part of the series…

The next blog will take a look at how the Court has begun to develop the law in respect of third party funding, with a look at the decision in Factortame Ltd v Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions No.8 [2002].

This blog was prepared by Kris Kilsby who is an Associate Costs Lawyer at Clarion and part of the Costs Litigation Funding Team.  Kris can be contacted at kris.kilsby@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 227 3628.

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When a CFA describes the claim rather than the work it covers

The recent Court of Appeal decision of Malone v Birmingham Community NHS Trust [2018] EWCA Civ 1376 reinforced the importance of a clearly drafted funding document.

The case involved a prisoner at HMP Birmingham who pursued a claim for failure to diagnose testicular cancer between August 2010 and January 2011. The prison was operated by the Ministry of Justice, and health care services were provided by Birmingham Community NHS Trust, and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust.

The Claimant initially instructed Ross Aldridge Solicitors, who had difficulty in identifying the correct Defendant, and in March 2012 the Claimant transferred instructions to New Law Solicitors. They, too, encountered uncertainty when trying to identify the correct negligent Defendant.

The Claimant entered into a CFA with New Law Solicitors on 16 January 2013, which stated that the agreement covered “All work conducted on your behalf following your instructions provided on [sic] regarding your claim against Home Office for damages for personal injury suffered in 2010.”

On 04 October 2013, after proceedings were issued but yet to be served, Birmingham Community NHS Trust admitted responsibility for the Claimant’s treatment, and on 20 March 2014 damages were agreed in the sum of £10,000 plus costs.

A detailed assessment of costs commenced, and the Defendant challenged the enforceability of the CFA on the basis that it was limited to a claim against the Home Office/Ministry of Justice only. DJ Phillips, regional costs judge for Walker, found on 27 April 2015 that the CFA excluded a claim against the Defendant and therefore costs were not recoverable under the agreement as the Claimant had no contractual liability to pay his Solicitor for the work done in suing the Defendant.

The Claimant applied for permission to appeal, which was initially dismissed by HHJ Curman QC in a judgment dated 25 September 2015, but was later granted by Brigg LJ by way of order dated 28 July 2017.

On appeal, Patten LJ and Hamblen LJ considered whether the critical wording of the CFA (highlighted in bold above) merely identified the claim to which it related, or whether it limited the scope of the CFA to a claim against the Home Office only. It was necessary to consider the principles established in paragraphs 11-13 of Wood v Capita Insurance Services [2017] UKSC 24 to ascertain whether a textual analysis of the agreement was required or whether greater emphasis should be given to the factual matrix (contextualism).

[A textual analysis is typically used for agreements that have been negotiated and prepared with the assistance of skilled professionals. Alternatively, consideration of a factual matrix can also lead to the correct interpretation of an agreement, particularly if a contract had been made without skilled input].

Hamblen LJ stated that the “insertions made to the CFA demonstrate it as poor quality drafting and little attention to detail. The critical wording consists of only one sentence and yet it contains three manifest mistakes: (i) the omission of the date of the instructions and (ii) the omission of the definite article before “Home Office” and (iii) the description of the claim being against “Home Office”. The Home Office had not been responsible for operating prisons for some years”. The poor drafting led to a greater emphasis being placed on the factual matrix of the agreement rather than a close textual analysis.

Hamblen LJ considered the most natural reading of the critical wording as being a CFA that covered “all work conducted” on the Claimant’s behalf following “instructions provided” in respect of his claim “against Home Office” and he concluded that the wording was descriptive of the instructions received rather than of the work to be done. Further, he suggested that if the CFA had meant to provide only a limited coverage, greater care and precision would have been expected, but that in any event it would have been in neither party’s interest to seek to impose a strict definitional limit on the agreement so early in the claim.

Therefore, taking into account both textualism and contextualism, it was found that the CFA was not limited to a claim against the Home Office/Ministry of Justice only and the Claimants appeal was allowed.

Whilst in this case the judgment goes in favour of the receiving party, it highlights the importance of giving careful consideration to exactly what a retainer provides for, both at the outset and during the life of a claim, to ensure there are no pitfalls on assessment. It is crucial that time is invested into the creation of a retainer at the outset of a matter, and that it is regularly reviewed throughout the life of a case.

If you have any questions or queries in relation this blog please contact Joanne Chase (joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327) or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 2460622.

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.