Disproportionate Costs in the Court of Protection

In the case of Hounslow v A Father & Mother (Costs in the Court of Protection – Disproportionate litigation) [2018] EWCOP 23, Judge Eldergill looked at the effects of deviating away from the simple issue at hand and the way that costs can spiral when disproportionate and unnecessary work is undertaken. It also looked at the costs consequences and the unfairness that can be encountered by a Litigant in Person.

The proceedings were in relation to a young man. The Applicant was the London Borough of Hounslow and the Respondents, were the young man’s parents.  The young man resided with his father and suffered from a severe learning disability, which rendered him unable to manage his own property and financial affairs. The financial assets were modest, and the young man received a number of benefits. At the time that the proceedings were issued, the father was the Department of Work and Pensions appointee and the mother assisted with the administration of his state benefits.

In this case, the local authority considered that a Deputyship would be more appropriate due to financial safeguarding concerns, obtained by an anonymous informant.  On 6 February 2017, the Court issued an application filed by the local authority, which asked the Court to appoint the Director of Children’s and Adult Social Services as the Deputy.

On 1 March 2017, the father filed an acknowledgement of service, opposing the application. The father stated that the local authority had failed to provide him with a copy of the application saying it was ‘confidential’. It was also stated that the local authority had not provided any more details or evidence in support of the application.

A Dispute Resolution Hearing had been listed for 2 May 2017, following which no resolution was reached. Judge Hilder listed a number of comprehensive directions in relation to the filing of evidence, position statements and the trial. The matter then came before Judge Eldergill and he stated the following;

1) A case involving the alleged misuse of state benefits has generated an enormous amount of documentation, and no doubt legal costs, quite disproportionate to the simple central issue of an alleged misuse of benefits.

2) The position statements and correspondence are full of generalised assertions of abuse of process, applications being misconceived, summary judgment, etc, which no doubt partly explains why so much paper has been generated.

3) Both legally-represented parties have made basic procedural errors (filing lengthy documents electronically despite what the rules say, including references to discussions at a DRH, filing bundles that are immediately to be returned, not serving the application within the required time limits).

I make these points because of the very clear costs implications.

He then made a further order on 13 November 2017, setting out concerns and the following directions:

UPON

(1)  Considering bundles and other filed documentation concerning this application of in excess of one thousand pages.

WHEREAS

(1)  The local authority has applied to be appointed as the deputy for property and financial affairs of [the son] who is a gentleman in receipt of social security benefits that are managed under a DWP appointeeship held by the First Respondent.

(2)  The outcome of the application will be either that the First Respondent continues to act as [his son’s] appointee (if the application is dismissed) or that the local authority is appointed as [his son’s] deputy, in which case the local authority automatically becomes his appointee.

(3)  The overriding objective of the rules is to enable the court to deal with a case justly. This includes ensuring that it is dealt with expeditiously, in ways which are proportionate to the nature, importance and complexity of the issues, saving expense, and allotting to it an appropriate share of the court’s resources. The parties are required to help the court to further the overriding objective.

(4) Unfortunately, an application concerning the management of [the son’s] benefits has generated over one thousand pages of documents and a huge amount of professional time, expenditure and legal costs quite disproportionate to a simple central issue of alleged misuse of benefits. While the court acknowledges that some of the documentation and expense was required of the parties as a result of the court’s case management directions of 2 May 2017, the amount of documentation filed has nevertheless been contrary to the overriding objective.

(5) Furthermore, and notwithstanding any submissions to the contrary:

(a) The position statements and correspondence are full of generalised assertions of abuse of process, applications being misconceived, summary judgment, etc, which no doubt partly explains why so much paper has been generated.

(b) Both legally-represented parties have made basic procedural errors (filing lengthy documents electronically despite what the rules say, including references to discussions at a DRH, filing bundles that are immediately to be returned, not serving the application within the required time limits, referring inappropriately to public interest immunity, etc).

(6) The parties will be aware that such considerations and observations have clear implications in terms of the recovery of the legal costs generated by these proceedings.

(7) On the documentary evidence filed to date, the court makes the following provisional observations in order to assist the parties:

(a)  The safeguarding investigation was fundamentally flawed and unfair.

(b) The financial information filed to date suggests that there was a lack of prudent good housekeeping under the previous arrangements in force until February 2017 in relation to the way in which benefits were used for [the son’s] benefit.

(c)  The position statement dated 27 September 2017 filed on behalf of the First Respondent is in quite general terms, in particular the financial tables at (internal) pp.10-12.

(d)  A hearing in the Court of Protection regarding the redaction of the identity of the informant would be disproportionately costly. Whether the initial report was malicious or not, and whoever the informant was, it is for the local authority to establish on evidence that there has been mismanagement or misuse by the Second Respondent of [her son’s] funds, that such mismanagement or misuse means that the First Respondent (sic) cannot remain as [his son’s] appointee, and furthermore that it justifies a deputyship order in favour of the local authority.

(e) To date, and despite a prolonged safeguarding investigation, the local authority has not established that the Second Respondent has used [the son’s] funds for her own benefit or that the First Respondent is an inappropriate appointee. If the local authority cannot prove that then it follows that the informant was an unreliable informant.

(f)  In relation to that issue, the local authority has not received unredacted copies of the Second Respondent’s bank statements or had an opportunity to test the evidence of both Respondents by way of cross-examination. That being so, summary dismissal of the application (with the likely costs consequences) would not be just or appropriate at this stage.

(g) On the basis that the local authority is unwilling to withdraw its application, a short half-day final trial is appropriate with the following witness template: First Respondent Evidence-in-Chief 15 minutes, Cross-Examination 30 minutes; Second Respondent Evidence-in-Chief 15 minutes, Cross-Examination 30 minutes; Submissions 30 minutes; Judgment 30 minutes.

(h) Prior to the hearing the Second Respondent must (as she has very fairly willingly agreed to do) file and serve unredacted copies of the previously filed bank statements.

The mother provided the bank statements and details of the withdrawals and expenditure and the final hearing was on 2 February 2018. The Local Authority had withdrawn its application and left the matter of costs to be determined.

The young man had no savings so the usual rule of costs, that the costs be paid from the estate was not an option.  Judge Eldergill stated that the ‘proceedings had taken up a wholly disproportionate amount of court time and had been conducted with insufficient proportionality.’ The Judge concluded that the case could have been resolved in an efficient manner by simply reviewing bank statements and asking questions, but instead there were ‘hundreds of unnecessary and bad-tempered correspondence, witness statements, position statements and emails’ which amounted to approximately £50,000.00 plus VAT costs in respect of the Respondents costs and £15,000.00 in respect of the local authority’s costs.

Payment of costs in respect of property and financial affairs applications under Rule 19.2, state that the ‘costs should be paid by P or charged by to P’s estate’, however Rule 19.5 can be applied when there is support in departing from the general rule. The judge held that the litigation was conducted disproportionately by both sides and there was a failure to focus on the simple central issue of; whether the bank statements could indicate any misuse of funds. Furthermore, Judge Eldergill stated that he did not believe that the ‘costs incurred by the First Respondent were proportionate to the issues, complexity of the case and the son’s circumstances’.

The proportionality of the work undertaken on behalf of the First Respondent were deemed to be assessed on an item-by-item detailed assessment basis. The Local Authority would then pay 90% of those costs, with the 10% reduction reflecting the Courts findings of the conduct of the other party. The costs in relation to the Litigant in Person were much more complex and the Judge felt that they lead to an injustice. The Judge also called for the rules to be reviewed and revised so that the Court can award a Litigant in Person costs in a case such as this one. It will be interesting to see if there are any developments in this area.

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.

Proportionality and budget comparisons

Budgets were once again considered in the case of Red and White Services Ltd v Phil Anslow Ltd & Anor [2018] EWHC 1699 (Ch). This was a competitions claim about a bus company and its parking bays. In summary, the Claimant had the use of more parking bays than the Defendant, the Claimant sued the Defendant for trespass and the Defendant in turn brought, by way of a counterclaim, a competitions Act law claim against the Claimant and pursed a Part 20 Competitions Act claim against the Third Party.

All parties were ordered to prepare budgets with the Claimant’s and Third Party’s budgets being in similar amounts, each in the region of £1.5 million; and the Defendant’s budget coming in at just less than £300,000.00.

The Defendant not surprisingly submitted the Claimant’s and the Third Party’s budgets were seriously disproportionate, given that the damages in this claim were likely to be in the region of £80,000 to £120,000.

Mr Justice Birss commented that “It is essentially, although these are my words not counsel’s, an attempt to create figures for costs which are unrealistically low for the purpose of budgeting and to act as an unfavourable contrast to the figures from the claimant and the third party”

He considered proportionality and commented…

“I do not regard the budget costs figures in this case as proportionate or reasonable, particularly given the relatively limited nature of the disputes between the parties. The individual dispute which is worth the most is the overpayment/overvaluation claim. That will involve some quantity surveying evidence, although experience of such disputes leads me to suspect that this will not necessarily be extensive: the various valuation items in issue will probably fall into a handful of types or categories, so that once an expert has addressed the leading items in each category, there will be little left for the expert to do. The defects are a relatively modest element of this claim, so that even if they required both M and E and architectural experts, the involvement of such experts ought to be relatively limited.

He further commented that ..

“It is a matter for the defendant to have chosen to join both of those independent companies and therefore the fact that the two budgets together, each of £1.5 million, mean that the defendant could be bearing a cost risk of £3 million, does not seem to me to be a matter of great significance on the facts of this case. The individual budgets are the figures I need to consider, not the net risk to the defendant of aggregating the two.”

The judge, after applying the proportionality test and refusing to make comparisons with the Defendant’s budget, approved budgets for the Claimant and Third Party each in a sum not exceeding £800,000.00.

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

 

 

 

 

Proportionality – a flurry of cases

Proportionality is a hot topic in the legal costs world at the moment and in the last 4 months there has been a flurry of cases from the Senior Courts Costs Office and the High Court. The cases are as follows:

Marcura & DA-Desk FZ-LLC -v- Nisomar Ventures Limited & Claus Hyldager.

Various Claimants -v- MGN Ltd [2018]

Arjomandkhah -v- Nasrouallahi [2018]

Powell & others -v- The Chief Constable of West Midlands Police [2018]

The outcomes in each of these cases are of course case specific. Every case is different, and therefore in practice, this is what makes the application of the new test of proportionality difficult to predict.

It is now fundamentally important for all litigators and costs lawyers to have a sound knowledge of CPR 44.3 (5):

Costs incurred are proportionate if they bear a reasonable relationship to –

(a) the sums in issue in the proceedings;

(b) the value of any non-monetary relief in issue in the proceedings;

(c) the complexity of the litigation;

(d) any additional work generated by the conduct of the paying party; and

(e) any wider factors involved in the proceedings, such as reputation or public importance.

Lawyers should be able to link case facts/details to the above factors and articulate those facts to a Judge at a CCMC, summary assessment or to a Costs Judge on detailed assessment (or provisional assessment).

A really important point is that value shouldn’t be given superior status, as shown in the cases of Various Claimants -v- MGN Ltd [2018] and Marcura & DA-Desk FZ-LLC -v- Nisomar Ventures Limited & Claus Hyldager (costs can be higher than damages). However, in practice, Judge’s are often tactically led by Defendants to place a greater weight on value. It is therefore important for Claimants to be alive to this and ensure the Judge gives equal consideration to each factor in CPR 44.5 (3) and to encourage the Judge to adopt a ‘holistic’ approach (May & May -v- Wavell Group & Dr Bizzari [2018]) when applying the new test of proportionality.

The ’May’ case is the only case to date to give some real judicial guidance in relation to the test and how it should be applied. The decision in that case was appealed, but last week permission to appeal was refused by the Court of Appeal. Many legal experts expected the ‘May’ Appeal to provide the Court of Appeal with the chance to issue some clarity and guidance on the test – they will now have to wait a bit longer.

The area of proportionality is starting to develop and we will see many more decisions in 2018, with some appearing harsh and some lenient. The application of the test involves a large degree of judicial discretion and therefore practitioners should not expect a great deal of consistency. If certainty is what practitioners want then fixed costs is the remedy, which is of course not an attractive alternative!

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

 

Indemnity Basis Costs Awards

The case of MacInnes v Hans Thomas Gross [2017] contains some very useful information for any law firm or litigant considering the issue of indemnity basis costs awards. Pages 2 and 3 are the relevant pages to consider in the judgment.

In the case, the First Defendant applied for an indemnity basis costs award against the Claimant, but this was rejected by The Honourable Mr Justice Coulson, and in doing so he considered a number of authorities in relation to such awards. Those very useful authorities are at paragraph 3 of the judgment and are as follows:

  1. Indemnity costs are appropriate only when the conduct of the paying party is unreasonable “to a high degree. ‘Unreasonable’ in this context does not mean merely wrong or misguided in hindsight” see Kiam v MGN Limited [2002].
  2. The court must therefore decide whether there is something in the conduct of the action, or the circumstances of the case in general, which takes it “out of the norm” in a way which justifies an order for indemnity for costs, see Excelsior Commercial & Industrial Holdings Limited v Salisbury Hammer Aspden & Johnson [2002].
  3. The pursuit of a weak claim will not usually, on its own, justify an order for indemnity costs, provided the claim was at least arguable. The pursuit of a hopeless claim (or a claim which a party pursuing it should have realised was hopeless) may well lead to such an order, see Wates Construction Limited v HGP Greentree Allchurch Evans Limited [2006].

The review of key authorities in the judgment is very useful and provides an excellent starting point for anyone tasked with considering whether to apply for an indemnity basis costs award.

Do remember that an indemnity basis costs award should always be sought in the appropriate cases, due to the fact that proportionality is not a consideration/factor when costs are assessed on the indemnity basis. There is also case law that supports the position that a receiving party is not restricted/held to its costs budget where costs are assessed on the indemnity basis (Slick Seating Systems [2013] and Kellie v Wheatley [2014]). CPR 3.18 also supports this.

The new test of proportionality has had a real impact (negatively for receiving parties) on some reported cases (see, for example, The new test of proportionality – 66% reduction) and therefore an indemnity basis award would provide protection for a receiving party from the new test of proportionality. Furthermore, there is a strong argument that an indemnity basis costs award escapes fixed costs (Broadhurst v Tan [2016]) and therefore applications for indemnity basis costs awards may well be on the increase given the likely extension of fixed costs for civil and commercial litigation in the not too distant future.

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 on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com.

 

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.