Court of Protection denies Official Solicitor the recovery of costs

“In 2017, the NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group launched what were intended to be four test cases seeking clarification of the law concerning the deprivation of liberty of mentally incapacitated adults. For various reasons, however, all of those applications, or in some cases that part of the application relating to the deprivation of liberty issue, were withdrawn, but not before the Official Solicitor had agreed to act for two of the respondents with the benefit of publicly-funded certificates and had incurred some legal costs. Subsequently, the Official Solicitor has applied for all or part of those costs to be paid by the applicant.” [2018] EWCOP 7 (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2018/7.html)

This is the opening of the judgement delivered by Mr Justice Baker before rejecting the application by the Official Solicitor to recover the costs incurred in dealing with the test cases that were eventually dropped in relation to the Deprivation of Liberty of mentally incapacitated adults.

The four test cases mentioned were to seek clarification on whether mentally incapacitated adults whom lived at home with care plans devised and administered by the applicant, were being deprived of their liberty. In each application the applicant sought a declaration from the Court of Protection that the respondent was not being deprived of their liberty.

In respect of two of the four cases the Official Solicitor declined to accept the invitation, that by reason of their means, they did not qualify for public funding. It was considered not appropriate to utilise their own funds to support a test case and therefore it was agreed these two cases would be stayed. In respect of the remaining two respondents who qualified for public funding, the application continued. Inter-party discussions led to the Official Solicitor withdrawing the applications for declarations and instead sought consequential directions in all four cases.

The grounds for withdrawal were; reconsideration in light of the Official Solicitor’s analysis, difficulties and delays meant only one of the four cases was capable of proceeding on the preliminary issues and the recent publication by the Law Commission reduced the justification of the declaration sought.

The two publicly funded cases, by this point had amounted costs of approximately £30,000.00. The Official Solicitor applied for all or part of the costs accrued to be the responsibility of the applicant by arguing that the case should not have been viewed as a typical welfare case but more as a civil claim. For various reasons, this was rejected.

When considering the Applicants conduct in the matter, it was successfully pointed out that three of the four test cases were unsuitable to be included from the outset which should have been identified. The remaining test case was not pursued due to the ineligibility of public funding, it was viewed by the Court that the applicant should have funded the matter. The Law Commission’s report in which the Official Solicitor relied upon when responding to the application was published prior to the case management hearing so the outcome of the Official Solicitors response should have been reasonably considered. Thus, rendering the costs incurred by the Official Solicitor in responding for the most part as unnecessary.

In response, the Applicant submitted that the application was in good public interest due to the uncertainty of the area of law in respect of the Cheshire West’s “Acid Test”, that withdrawing the application was justified due to the lack of a “sufficiently broad range of facts to give the applicant sufficient guidance to the 100+ incapacitated adults for whom it is responsible for providing healthcare services at home” and the budget constraints which made funding the application without public assistance unattainable.

It was concluded that a costs order against the applicant in this matter was inappropriate save as to those of the Official Solicitor’s costs that were publicly funded.

Bridie Sanderson is a Paralegal in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department.

You can contact Bridie on 0113 336 3350, or alternatively email at bridie.Sanderson@clarionsolicitors.com

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The 70% Costs Myth…..

Throughout the legal profession there is a ‘myth’ that a Receiving Party should expect to recover in the region of 70% of their costs on detailed assessment. Many lawyers advise their clients of this. In some instances this may be a reasonable estimate, but in my experience the figure is often arrived at without any consideration of the costs contained within the bill of costs.

The bill of costs is the absolute starting point in relation to the likely outcome on detailed assessment. If the hourly rates claimed in a bill of costs are in accordance with the SCCO Guideline Hourly Rates, the costs claimed are clearly proportionate and the time claimed is generally reasonable then one would expect any reductions on detailed assessment to be minimal. The recovery should therefore be way in excess of 70%.

However if, for example, the following issues relate to a bill of costs then one could expect the recovery to be much less than 70%:

1. the hourly rates are significantly above the SCCO Guideline Hourly Rates

2. the claim for costs is globally disproportionate

3. there is lots of duplication and solicitor/own client communications claimed

4. There has been a lack of delegation.

We recently prepared Points of Dispute (acting for the Paying Party) on a matter and following Provisional Assessment the bill of costs was reduced by 50%. This was mainly due to proportionality and VAT being incorrectly claimed.

When considering a claim for costs, lawyers should pay attention to the costs contained within the bill of costs when estimating the likely level of recovery. The 70% ‘myth’ should not be the starting point. Advising a client that 70% is the ‘norm’ could actually mean the client is paying more or receiving less than they should be. My advice is therefore to proceed with caution and shy away from relying on the 70% ‘costs myth’. This is now more important than ever in light of the new test for proportionality and the impact that this can have on summary or detailed assessment (Who Needs Fixed Costs and Proportionality continues to get tougher).

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