The Senior Court Costs Office Guide – how to get paid for your work!

A recent publication of the Senior Courts Cost Office Guide was produced as a result of various changes in the way legal costs are being assessed. However, in respect of Court of Protection costs, not a great deal has changed since its inception. As a result, the 2018 guide brings the perfect opportunity to review the position on Court of Protection costs, getting paid for your work and the rules to follow.

Initially, Section 25 of the Mental Health Act 2005 created the weight of the Court of Protection, which protects the property and financial affairs of persons who lack the capacity to manage their own.

There are three methods for recovering your costs; Agreed costs, Fixed costs and Summary Detailed Assessment of costs.

Most Orders will contain a clause entitling the professional Deputy to be paid for the work undertaken. It will provide the option of taking fixed costs or having the costs assessed, subject to the terms of the Order.

Agreed Costs

As set out in the Guide, Agreed Costs are not generally available and would only be necessary in the circumstances that fixed costs do not cover the work undertaken and it would not be appropriate to undertake a costs assessment. For example, following the death of a Protected Party, they are often required to attempt to agree their costs to bring the matter to a smooth conclusion.

Fixed Costs

Practice Direction 19B supplementing Part 19 of the COP Rules 2017 sets out fixed costs that may be claimed by Solicitors and office holders in public authorities acting as Deputy for the Protected Party. However, the Court has the discretion to apply the rules to other professionals such as accountants and case managers acting as Deputy. The general rule is that the costs of the proceedings should be paid by the pp1 or their estate unless a Court Order provides for an alternative. Where a Court Order or direction provides for a detailed assessment, the Deputy can choose to take fixed costs in lieu.

Detailed Assessment

Professional Deputies should lodge a request for Detailed Assessment with the SCCO by way of N258b form. Accompanied by:

  1. the Bill of Costs
  2. the document giving right to Detailed Assessment
  3. copies of the Court Orders
  4. any fee notes of Counsel and/or expert as claimed within in the bill
  5. Written evidence of any other disbursement exceeding £500
  6. The relevant lodgement fee (currently £225.00 for detailed bills over £3,000, £115.00 for short form bills under £3,000)
  7. A copy of the OPG105 relating to the time period claimed within the Bill of Costs

In cases with costs exceeding £100,000.00, they are to be dealt with by a Master, and the relevant papers in support of the bill must only be lodged when requested.

It should be noted that, unlike litigation costs, a Court of Protection bill MUST NOT be filed electronically.

Once the assessment has taken place, you have 14 days from the date of receipt of the assessed bill to raise an appeal if dissatisfied. If following the review, you remain dissatisfied at the outcome, the SCCO will arrange a date for a oral hearing before a Master. In practice this is usually by telephone or letter.

After completion of the assessment, the Professional Deputy must complete the bill summary on the bill certifying the castings as correct, returning the original bill to the SCCO to enable them to issue the Final Costs Certificate, which is your authority to be paid.

Payments on account

Section 6 of the COP Practice Direction 19B states that Professional Deputies who elect for detailed assessment of the annual management charges can take payments on account for the first, second and third quarters of the year which are both proportionate and reasonable to the size of the estate. The interim bills must not exceed 25% of the estimated charges, so no more than 75% for the annum. The details of the interim bills received must be outlined within the Bill of Costs submitted to the SCCO.

If you require any further information, please contact bridie.sanderson@clarionsolicitors.com or call me on 0113 336 3350

Hourly Rates – How far can you depart from the Guideline Hourly Rates?

The case of Sir Philip Green & Ors v Telegraph Media Group Limited [2019] EWHC 96 (QB)

Background

This matter revolved around the Claimant and two companies seeking an injunction against the Defendant to restrain them from publishing information about the Claimant. The information related to the alleged misconduct of the Claimants which had been subject to non-disclosure agreements.

A number of pre-trial applications were addressed by Warby J, including the issue of costs budgeting . Given the time-sensitive nature of proceedings, the issue of costs budgeting could only be addressed two weeks before trial.

The hourly rates claimed by the Claimant’s City of London-based solicitors ranged from £190 (for a Grade D trainee) to £690 (for a Grade A lawyer – a Partner). Other Partners’ rates claimed by the Claimants were between £510 and £635 per hour. Warby J noted that all these figures were well in excess of the guideline rates, which are £126 for Grade D and £409 for Grade A (emphasis added).

Warby J recognised that, due to the late stage of costs budgeting, the majority of costs were incurred, and as such he was restricted from budgeting incurred costs due to CPR PD 3E 7.4, and was limited to only making comments.

Warby J said he did not consider that hourly rates of more than £550 could be justified, and proportionate reductions should also be made to the lower Partners’ rates.

The Judge added: ‘Of course, fees in excess of the guidelines can be and often are allowed, and in this case the defendants (who themselves claim up to £450 per hour) and I both accept that fees above those rates are justified. But not to the extent of the differences here.’

Comment

The outcome of this hearing raises two interesting topics for discussion: the level of hourly rates in general, and, the approach the Court can take in respect of hourly rates in costs management.

Hourly rates in general

As a starting point, and as referenced by Warby J indirectly, it is well accepted that Guideline Hourly Rates are just that, a guideline. They are suitable for carrying out a summary assessment and can be a starting position for detailed assessment. Following this , the Court will take into account both CPR 44.3(5), and the 8 ‘pillars of wisdom’ contained within CPR 44.4(3), when considering whether costs are proportionate and reasonable in amount (when assessing on the standard basis). These factors can be used to support an enhancement, for instance, given the complexity of the matter, or the conduct of parties.

The Court has recently commented further on a case which claimed very high hourly rates, far in excess of the Guideline Hourly Rates. In the matter of Dana Gas PJSC v Dana Gas Sukuk Ltd & Ors [2018] EWHC 332 (Comm), the Court found that hourly rates in excess of £900 were unreasonable, even in a matter which was factually/legally complex, had an international element and was of significant value. The Court considered that hourly rates of half that amount (hence being very similar to the rates referred to as reasonable by Warby J in the case of Sir Philip Green & Ors v Telegraph Media Group Limited [2019] EWHC 96 (QB)), were considered more reasonable to obtain competent representation in such a case.

There is technically no limit on the hourly rates which can be charged by a firm of solicitors, so long as the client agrees to pay them, but the Court is now taking a much tougher stance in respect of how much of that hourly rate can be recovered inter partes. This leaves the firm in an unenviable position: either write off those costs claimed, or, bill the client for the shortfall.

Perhaps this was a factor in Sir Philip deciding to abandon the claim?

Budgeting

It is well established that the Court must walk a tightrope when addressing hourly rates while setting a budget. The Court can have regard to the constituent elements of the budget, including hourly rates (CPR PD 3E 7.3), but the Court must not over step the mark and proceed to fix or approve hourly rates (CPR PD 3E 7.10). Warby J’s comments appear to strike the right balance between the two. Unfortunately, shortly after the hearing, the Claimants abandoned the claim, and we will therefore not see at detailed assessment stage how much weight is given to comments made at costs management stage.

The interplay between hourly rates, costs budgeting and detailed assessment is an interesting one, and a topic which will, no doubt, continue to develop as more and more budgeted cases proceed to detailed assessment.


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.

 

All you need to know about Counsel’s Fees in COP – How are they assessed?

Deputyship management is not always plain sailing, and on occasions, professional Deputies may be instructed to take on a case whereby the background is complicated, the circumstances are unusual and where Counsel are required to progress the matter. We have investigated the general rules applied when Counsel’s’ fees are to be assessed, and here is everything you need to know.

On what basis are the reductions made?

Firstly, it is important to recognise that in Deputyship matters, all costs are open for assessment. When a Deputyship Order is issued, it provides the authority for the professionals involved in the case to have their costs assessed. This includes the Professional Deputy, Counsel and in some instances, if a translator is required, their costs would also be subject to assessment.

What do the SCCO look at when deciding whether Counsel’s fees should be allowed?

Following a conversation with an experienced Costs Officer, advice was obtained regarding what aspects they consider when reviewing Counsel’s fees, once a bill of costs had been submitted for assessment. As there are no clear “black and white” guidelines for the assessment of Counsel’s fees, the Costs Officers are able to use their discretion on a case by case basis to review what would be a reasonable and proportionate amount to allow. Approximately, £300.00 per hour is allowed for a hearing, and £250.00 per hour for general work, however based on the complexity, volume of work undertaken, geographical location of Counsel and the breakdown of work outlined on Counsel’s fee note, these hourly rates could be revised by the Costs Officer.

It is important to note that it is your responsibility to work with your costs provider to include a detailed narrative within the Bill of Costs, explaining and justifying Counsel’s fees and involvement. For example, the Costs Officer would question why a Leeds based firm would instruct a London based Counsel. Details of the facts of the case, any hearings that have taken place, and the necessity of the work conducted should be included within the bill. Furthermore, when the bill is submitted for assessment, a Counsel’s fee note should be provided with the Bill of Costs. A further point to take into account is that not all Counsel’s fee notes are detailed enough, and therefore this increases the importance of including information relating to the complexity and background of the case when preparing the Bill of Costs.

A general understanding is that if Counsel had claimed for overall “refreshing themselves on the case” as they have not worked on the matter for a prolonged period of time this would not be allowed upon assessment as it would be deemed disproportionate and unreasonable.

Are the Deputyship firm expected to cover the reductions?

Counsel and professional Deputies are both aware that their costs are to be assessed and therefore, they are also aware that their costs could be reduced upon assessment. It is recommended for Counsel and the professional Deputy to make an agreement before the Bill of Costs is sent for assessment, whether the Deputy’s firm would cover the shortfall if reductions are made, or Counsel agrees to refund the reductions. Secondly, it was advised to wait until the Bill of Costs has been assessed before settling Counsel’s fees.

Do Counsel have a right to dispute the reductions?

If Counsel’s fees have been reduced upon assessment, they have a right to dispute the decision. This would be done in the format of a Request for Reassessment, prepared by your costs provider, outlining the reasons why you disagree with the reductions made and evidence in support of this.

It is noteworthy that Counsel are considered to be an “interested party” and therefore the professional Deputy would have to serve a copy of the provisionally assessed Bill of Costs on Counsel, and receive confirmation that they accept the amount allowed before the SCCO will issue the Final Costs Certificate, which provides authority for the Deputy and Counsel to be paid.

If you have any queries, or require any further information then please do not hesitate to contact Georgia Clarke at georgia.clarke@clarionsolicitors.com

Court of Protection Costs – What happens after the death of P?

Upon the death of the Protected Party, the Deputy’s authority under the First General Order seizes with immediate effect. Once the matter is transferred to the Executors of the Estate, the Deputy can agree their costs directly without a need for assessment, if possible, which will generally save the Protected Party money overall, without the need for the assessment process. If this is not possible, it may be necessary to apply to the Court for the costs to be assessed.

The interim work and the costs of the Deputy bringing the matter to a conclusion following the death of the Protected Party have been questioned over the years, as there has been very little guidance on this issue. In many cases, there is reasonable and necessary work involved in preparing the case for the Executor to thereafter deal with the Estate, however, what is a reasonable sum for this work?

Following correspondence with the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO), the following change has been made to the assessment procedure with immediate effect. The SCCO may now allow ‘reasonable costs’ (post death of the Protected Party) in order that the Deputy can finalise his/her involvement in the matter. The SCCO have indicated that such costs should not be expected to exceed £1,500.00 +VAT.

As a result, where it appears that the post-death profit costs exceed £1,500.00 +VAT, the Deputy will require the authority to assess that part of the Bill of Costs. Costs below this amount are likely to be deemed reasonable on assessment but are, of course, subject to the usual assessment process and will be allowed based on what was reasonable, necessary and proportionate in the circumstances.

If you have any queries relating to post-death costs in Court of Protection cases, please do not hesitate to contact Stephanie Kaye.

Proportionality in the Court of Protection

You will have all heard about the ‘Jackson Reforms’, which so far, have not been something that Court of Protection practitioners have had to be too concerned about – until now.

As part of the ‘Jackson Reforms’, a new test of proportionality was introduced. Proportionality now trumps reasonableness and ‘necessity’. Even if a cost was reasonable and was necessary, it can be disallowed on the basis of proportionality. The purpose of this reform was to tackle disproportionate claims for costs.

The case of BNM and MGN Limited (see https://clarionlegalcosts.com/2016/06/10/who-needs-fixed-costs/#more-876) is an interesting case to consider in relation to the new test of proportionality, where a bill of costs was reduced from £167,389.45 to £83,964.80 on the basis of proportionality. This is one of the first cases to really demonstrate the power of CPR 44.3 (2) (‘Jackson test of proportionality’), which states:

Where the amount of costs is to be assessed on the standard basis, the court will –

(a) only allow costs which are proportionate to the matters in issue. Costs which are disproportionate in amount may be disallowed or reduced even if they were reasonably or necessarily incurred; and

 (b) resolve any doubt which it may have as to whether costs were reasonably and proportionately incurred or were reasonable and proportionate in amount in favour of the paying party.

 This ‘Jackson test of proportionality’ is something that has primarily been having an impact on civil and commercial claims for costs, however, we (Court of Protection Costs team at Clarion) are now starting to see the new test being applied to Court of Protection cases.

Under the new test, the Senior Courts Costs Office must assess a bill of costs (line by line) and determine what is reasonable. Thereafter, the new test of proportionality can be applied. The Costs Officer has the power to stand back and ask ‘was this a proportionate sum to incur on this matter taking into account all the factors relating to the case’, and in some instances, the answer can lead to significant further reductions to a Bill of Costs.

Going forward, we believe that this is something that will have an impact on Court of Protection cases. Not only will your costs be assessed based on what was reasonably incurred, but the SCCO can also consider other factors, such as the value of the Protected Party’s estate and other non-monetary influences when considering whether the assessed (reasonable amount) is proportionate.

We considered a recent assessment whereby the Protected Party’s estate was worth approximately £46,000.00. The Deputy submitted a bill of costs totalling £12,200.00. The bill was provisionally assessed at £11,500.00, but was thereafter limited to £9,000.00 due to the issue of proportionality, as a result of the value of the estate.

There is no guidance as to what is proportionate in these cases, however, the Costs Officer has the authority to determine what is proportionate at their own discretion. It will be interesting to see how this is applied going forward and whilst this area is still developing, requests for reviews or appeals may be appropriate. Albeit the financial position of the Protected Party is key, other factors such as the conduct of the Protected Party, the complexity of the matter and any key elements (international and business) may be influential in justifying your claim for costs.

If this is something which you require assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact myself or our team at COPCosts@clarionsolicitors.com.

Philpott – Is it reasonable to claim for updating accounts ledgers?

It is common knowledge that the SCCO refer to certain case law when assessing Bills of Costs in Court of Protection matters. Although the Costs Officers assess your incurred costs using their own discretion as to what is reasonable and proportionate, there are a number of themes which can be identified from the assessments we are seeing. If something stands out in which case law has determined that it cannot be charged to the Protected Party, it will be reduced or disallowed upon assessment.

A more recent case has come to our attention as we have seen the case quoted more recently on provisionally assessed Bills of Costs. In the case of Philpott, the written judgement was not published, however the SCCO were able to share a few comments made by Master Haworth whilst delivering his judgement. Essentially, whereby time has been spent updating the Protected Party’s financial records or schedules of income and expenditure, this has been noted as an ‘office overhead’ in some instances.

During the delivery of his judgement, Master Haworth made the following comments inter alia:-

“It seems to me that the inputting of data into P’s ledger is not fee earning work.  At most it is bookkeeping which, to my mind, is an overhead of a solicitor’s practice.

This work has to be distinguished from for example, reviewing or perusing the data to come to a decision as to what then needs to be done with a P’s funds.  To my mind that may well amount to fee earning work for which the solicitors can charge separately at the appropriate rate. 

I know that I have a number of further appeals on similar lines which may well result in a written judgment from me in due course.  Nonetheless, it may be helpful for you to circulate this memo to the Costs Officers in the interest of consistency in the future.”

 Resultantly, we recommend that this task is delegated appropriately to a Grade D fee earner or non-fee earner where possible.

If you have any queries in respect of the above, please do not hesitate to contact the Costs Team at COPCosts@clarionsolicitors.com