UPDATES – What is a good reason to depart from a budget??

Since Harrison v University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust [2017] EWCA Civ 792 and the ruling that a budget will only be departed from (up or down) if there is good reason to do so, there has existed the issue of what a good reason to depart from a budget upon detailed assessment is. Case law provides authority for what does and does not amount to a good reason, and there has now been time to reflect on this.

The matter of what constitutes a good reason is still subject to much questioning and debate, as there is no distinct definition of what amounts to ‘a good reason’.

The case of RNB v London Borough of Newham [2017] EWHC B15 (Costs), which followed that of Harrison and Deputy Master Campbell, decided that departing from the hourly rates was a good reason to depart from the budget. However, this decision faced criticism, in that the Judges’ role in the budgeting process is to set a total for each phase in the budget and is not to approve or fix the hourly rates.

Therefore, for all intents and purposes, it is irrelevant what the hourly rate is for those budgeted costs, at the time that the budget is set. A Judge may look at it like this: whether a party spends 15 hours at £200.00 per hour, or 20 hours at £150.00, for a total phase of £3,000.00 – the figure is still the same. The total phase is just that: a total amount which the Court believes is appropriate for the work required.

The issue of hourly rates – and a good reason to depart from a budget – was revisited in Bains v Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust. This decision went against RNB, as it ruled that to reduce the hourly rates in line with reductions made to those of the incurred costs would be to second guess what the Judge was thinking at the point of costs management.

Nash v Ministry of Defence [2018] EWHC B4 (Costs), a high court decision following the decision of Bains, ruled that, if the change in hourly rate for incurred costs was a good reason to depart from the budgeted figures, it would bring about a case of double jeopardy. Thus, the only way to combat this, would be to undertake an assessment of the incurred costs at the costs case management hearing.

Jallow v Ministry of Defence [2018] EWHC B7 (Costs) highlighted matters that do not amount to a good reason to depart from the budget, and how the costs management order (CMO) can impact the detailed assessment. Master Rowley commented that the two factors brought in front of him, namely the settlement figure in comparison to the pleaded value, and the reduction in the hourly rates, do not amount to good reasons for departing from the budget.

The Master concluded that a reduction to rates for incurred costs do not amount to a good reason to depart. To amount to a good reason, something specific is needed to have happened. The change in the hourly rates did not amount to something specific and had it done so, it would have set a precedent for parties to argue good reason every time rates have been reduced, as it is in many cases.

A more recent decision of an appeal case, Barts Health NHS Trust v Salmon (unreported) (2019)delves further into the matter of good reason and provides authority on departing down from the budget where the phase has not yet been completed. HHJ Dight concluded that, where the phase has not been completed, and the receiving party has claimed less than the total figure for that phase, then this amounts to a good reason to depart from the budgeted figure, in order that the indemnity principle not be breached. Interestingly, HHJ Dight then went on to say that once good reason has been established, then the paying party need not put forward any further good reason when additionally challenging the level of the total figure claimed and attempting to reduce the phase.

This raises some significant questions about the importance of the assumptions of the budget, following approval of the figures at the costs case management conference. The only page required for filing is the front page of the approved budget. However, should it now be required to submit updated assumptions, to reflect what the figures are based on, should any part argue a good reason to depart in relation to whether a phase has been completed. I suspect, as further good reasons become apparent, the use of the assumptions to show what the phase total was based on will become a much more widely used tool, in proving good reasons to depart, where assumptions widely differ from the actual outcome, and could come to benefit both receiving and paying parties, For example, where there has been more work assumed than has actually been undertaken, regardless of a party is claiming the total of the phase, or where the total of the phase is much lower than budgeted, regardless of whether the number of witnesses was much lower than the number anticipated.

There remains uncertainty as to what does amount to a good reason. With some guidance, I suspect there will be many more cases to come; however, will reluctance be shown by Judges to make those decisions given the gravity of those rulings?

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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.

A new year, a new statement of costs. But why stop at that? A few intended changes to Costs Management too

The CPR committee have been hard at work again coming up with solutions to the problems that have been encountered by the legal profession since the Jackson reforms nearly 6 years ago.  Following the scratching of many heads, a few of those creases have been ironed out and the following proposals have been made:

Statements of costs

A voluntary 2 year pilot scheme for the new statement of costs will be implemented, starting from 1 April 2019.

The current proposals are for two new forms of costs statements, namely N260A and N260B which may be used for summary assessment. These new forms will  include a VAT declaration and the forms will now include the signature of a legal representative, which is in line with the rules, as opposed to a company partner. The Form N260A will cross refer to the document schedule in the summary. No model forms are available yet.

Master Howarth has suggested that the precedent Q, the document that identifies whether there has been an under or overspend in a phase of a budget, is incorporated into the statement of costs. This will create transparency at the summary assessment stage regarding the amount incurred in comparison to the approved budget – supporting the need for a well drafted budget.

The committee is to give consideration to lower value cases and the relevance of statements of costs for those cases where there will never be a summary assessment, as there was concern regarding the wasted costs incurred in those instances.

Costs management

The precedent H costs budget will remain the same, but there will be some adjustments to the guidance notes to align costs budgeting with the new electronic bill approach.

There has been many a debate regarding what date the incurred costs should be included up to in the budget and there is tension in the wording of the rules in that regard. The committee have recognised this and have debated the very same problem. They have understood that differing practices appear to be in place and that overall there is value in a consistent approach. It has been advised that this issue should be resolved as part of a future review of the practice direction.

There will be some adjustments to the precedent R, however that is the only guidance that has been provided at this stage, so the amendments remain unknown for the time being.

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.

 

Partial strike out of the budget – Page v RGC Restaurants Ltd !

Partial strike out of the budget in the case of Page v RGC Restaurants Ltd !

Be wary when preparing budgets, do NOT prepare a budget up until a particular stage, unless the court orders otherwise. In this case, the Claimant had decided to prepare their budget up until the PTR stage only, the Master found that they had not complied with the CPR and limited the budget to court fees only. The Claimant appealed the decision on the grounds that a budget had been filed, questioning the Master’s irrational approach of limiting the budget to court fees, claiming that CPR 3.15 (the fact that the parties had agreed the Claimant’s budget up to the PTR stage) trumps the sanctions imposed by CPR 3.14 and submitting that the default sanction should be dis-applied. 

On appeal, the Master found that this was partial non-compliance rather than full non-compliance. So rather than striking the full budget out, the court struck out those phases of the budget where forecast costs had not been provided.

It has to be said, the preparation of partial budgets makes assessing proportionality impossible, which is an essential part of costs management. 

In practical terms, this is important for split trials. My advice has always been NEVER to prepare a budget up to the first trial, unless the court orders otherwise as there is the risk that the court will deem this to be non-compliant and the budget may be reduced to court fees. We now have case law which provides guidance regarding the approach to be adopted, which is helpful.  

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.

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.

Be costs ready at trial if your claim is being heard in the SHORTER AND FLEXIBLE TRIALS SCHEMES

In the 100th update to the CPR, PRACTICE DIRECTION 57AB for SHORTER AND FLEXIBLE TRIALS SCHEMES has been published and is implemented from 1 October 2018. This Practice Direction supplements CPR Part 57A.

A claim in the Shorter Trials Scheme may be started in any of the Business and Property Courts.

Costs are to be assessed by way of summary assessment, save in exceptional circumstances. Furthermore, the court can order, or parties can agree that costs management applies and if a costs management order is made costs will be summarily assessed on a phase by phase basis.

Costs

2.56 – CPR 3.12 shall not apply to cases in the Shorter Trials Scheme, unless the parties otherwise agree. If at the outset of the proceedings the parties agree that Costs Management should apply, they should seek an order to that effect at the CMC and apply for directions as to when budgets should be subsequently exchanged, discussed and submitted for the court’s approval.

2.57 – Within 21 days of the conclusion of the trial, or within such other period as may be ordered by the court, the parties shall each file and simultaneously exchange schedules of their costs incurred in the proceedings.

2.58 – Such schedules should contain sufficient detail of the costs incurred in relation to each applicable phase identified by Precedent H to the Costs Budgeting regime to enable the trial judge to be in a position to make a summary assessment thereof following judgment.

2.59 Save in exceptional circumstances—

(a) the court will make a summary assessment of the costs of the party in whose favour any order for costs is made; (b) rules 44.2(8), 44.7(1)(b) and Part 47 do not apply.

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

The Disclosure Pilot Scheme – what roles do costs estimates and precedent H costs budgets have?

Details of the disclosure pilot scheme are now available on the MOJ website, with a large focus of the scheme centring around saving costs – accurate costs estimates are essential (PRACTICE DIRECTION 51U – DISCLOSURE PILOT FOR THE BUSINESS AND PROPERTY COURTS).

In terms of costs, the pilot scheme reveals that costs estimates are now required to support different disclosure proposals; costs estimates of the intended disclosure exercise are required; estimating the costs of disclosure can be deferred until after the precedent H costs budget; costs don’t necessarily follow the event and be prepared for adverse costs orders being made. Be ready to be able to justify any estimates at a hearing and ensure that the estimates are accurate enough to be transferred across to the precedent H costs budget. Please see below some important paragraphs of the pilot scheme that relate to costs and estimates:

Costs don’t necessarily follow the event.

Para 9.9 – In an appropriate case, the court may order that the question of which party bears the costs of disclosure is to be given separate consideration at a later stage rather than the costs being treated automatically as costs in the case;

Para 10.3 – The parties’ obligation to complete, seek to agree and update the Disclosure Review Document is ongoing. If a party fails to co-operate and constructively to engage in this process the other party or parties may apply to the court for an appropriate order at or separately from the case management conference, and the court may make any appropriate order including the dismissal of any application for Extended Disclosure and/or the adjournment of the case management conference with an adverse order for costs.

Costs estimates are required to support different disclosure proposals.

10.6 – Having agreed the List of Issues for Disclosure and exchanged proposals on Model(s) for Extended Disclosure, the parties should prepare and exchange drafts of Section 2 of the Disclosure Review Document (including costs estimates of different proposals, and where possible estimates of likely amount of documents involved) as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event not later than 14 days before the case management conference.

Costs estimates of the intended disclosure exercise are required.

22.1 – The parties are required to provide an estimate of what they consider to be the likely costs of giving the disclosure proposed by them in the Disclosure Review Document, and the likely volume of documents involved, in order that a court may consider whether such proposals on disclosure are reasonable and proportionate (as defined in paragraph 6.4). These estimated costs may be used by the court in the cost budgeting process.

Estimating the costs of disclosure can be deferred until after the precedent H costs budget.

22.2 – In cases where the cost budgeting scheme applies, if it is not practical to complete the disclosure section of Form H in relation to disclosure prior to the court making an order in relation to disclosure at the case management conference, the parties may notify the court that they have agreed to postpone completion of that section of Form H until after the case management conference. If they have agreed to postpone they must complete the disclosure section within such period as is ordered by the court after an order for disclosure has been made at the case management conference. Where possible the court will then consider (and if appropriate, approve) that part of the cost budget without an oral hearing.

If the approach to Extended Disclosure is not fully agreed, the parties should be ready to provide more detailed information at the CMC as to how their global estimates were arrived at and the impact upon them of particular requests for Extended Disclosure.

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