Make sure your costs budgets, statements of costs and bills of costs are prepared correctly!
The Court of Appeal recently handed down Judgment (Gempride -v- Jagrit Bamrah and Lawlords of London Limited ) in a case which involved alleged misconduct in detailed assessment proceedings.
The underlying claim related to a claim by Ms Bamrah against Gempride for personal injuries. The claim settled by way of CPR 36 on 18 March 2013 for £50,000.00. Ms Bamrah initially dealt with the claim through her own law firm (Falcon Legal) before the claim was transferred to David Stinson & Co.
The case dates back to 2014 where Master Leonard in the Senior Courts Costs Office struck out Part 1 of the Claimant’s bill of costs (insofar as the costs exceeded the fixed hourly rate recoverable by litigants-in-person) due to mis-certification, on the basis that:
- the bill contained incorrect hourly rates; and
- mis-leading information in relation to Before-the-Event (BTE) insurance was provided in the Replies to Points of Dispute.
The Claimant successfully appealed that decision before His Honour Judge Mitchell in the Central London County Court. One of the most notable reasons for the reversal of the decision was that the judge found that the Claimant was not responsible for the acts and omissions of the costs consultants that were instructed (Lawlords of London Limited).
The Defendant (Gempride) appealed and was successful before the Court of Appeal. In respect of the instruction of Lawlords of London Limited, and the very important point about a Solicitor not being responsible for the acts of omissions of an agent, Lord Justice Hickinbottom said:
“At a time when new business practices mean that solicitors are more frequently subcontracting work out to the unauthorised, it seems to me to be an important matter of principle that solicitors on the record – and other authorised litigators and ‘legal representatives’ for the purposes of the CPR – understand that they remain ultimately responsible for the acts and omissions of those to whom they delegate parts of the conduct of litigation, particularly where those to whom such work is delegated are not authorised… it is only in that way that the supervisory jurisdiction of the court can be effectively maintained…”
“The reverse side of that coin is that, because the solicitor has responsibility for the conduct of those to whom he subcontracts work for which he as a solicitor has been retained, then he is able to charge for that work at an appropriate rate as profit costs (together with any success fee uplift under a CFA) and not simply as a disbursement.”
In respect of the bill of costs the Court of Appeal felt that there should be a penalty for the mis-certification, but that Master Leonard’s penalty was too severe; they disallowed 50% of Part 1 of the bill of costs. The Court did emphasise that the Claimant’s conduct in attempting to claim hourly rates which exceeded those in the retainer was not, in its judgment, dishonest. However, it found that on the best interpretation the Claimant had believed that as she was essentially acting for herself (albeit under the umbrella of Falcon Legal) and was entitled to modify the retainer “at will”, that this was fundamentally wrong, and that such conduct was “unreasonable or improper” to a level that could justify a sanction.
This is a very important decision for Solicitors who instruct costs lawyers and other costs professionals. It is fundamentally important that costs budgets, statements of costs and bills of costs are prepared correctly and the hourly rates claimed do not breach the indemnity principle – the Solicitor has the overall responsibility to make sure the costs document is correct as they certify it. It is also important to make sure that information in Points of Dispute and Replies to Points is accurate. Failure to do so can result in costs penalties, but more importantly, allegations of misconduct and associated legal reporting which would be damaging for any law firms’ or legal costs firms’ reputation.
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The Court of Appeal has ruled that a CFA stating the wrong Defendant is enforceable
The recent Court of Appeal decision of Malone v Birmingham Community NHS Trust  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 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.
In the first instance, the judge found on detailed assessment that the CFA was not enforceable against the Defendant as the Claimant had no liability to pay his Solicitor’s costs for the work undertaken.
However, on appeal, Hamblen LJ found that the wording of the CFA 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.
The appeal was allowed and it was concluded that the CFA was not limited to a claim against the Home Office/Ministry of Justice.
For further information, please see our full blog on this judgment.
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Various Claimants v MGN – Some much needed clarity!
Bespoke budgets in multi-party litigation, proportionality, updating the incurred costs included in the budget prior to the CCMC, including the costs of interim hearings in the budget, disapplying the 2% cap for costs management and the resourcing of fee earners were all points that were dealt with at the most recent CCMC in the latest phone hacking cases (Various Claimants including (1) John Leslie (2) Chantelle Houghton v MGN Limited  EWHC 1244 (Ch)).
MULTI-PARTY LITIGATION – The court’s approach to this multi-party litigation avoided the need for multiple costs management hearings for similar claims. The court applied a structure that was similar to a GLO and directions were made regarding managing the costs of the claim. Common and individual costs were split, and Costs Management was dealt with by the application of template budgets for individual costs and common costs. There were 3 categories of claims for the individual costs and the court could order that there be bespoke individual budgets in place of the template budgets. In this decision the court agreed that bespoke budgets were applicable to two of the Claimants, Leslie and Houghton.
THE BUDGET AND PROPORTIONALITY - Chief Master Marsh applied the proportionality test to the Claimants’ budgets commenting that “I would emphasise that the court is not required to have regard to the constituent elements of each budget phase (it may do so) and the court's task is to decide whether the total for each phase falls within a range of reasonable and proportionate costs…. And the court is not looking to establish what the budget figure should be objectively ascertained, but rather a figure that falls within the applicable range applying the reasonableness and proportionality tests alongside each other.”
“The court must apply both the reasonableness and proportionality tests, but the former may yield to the latter. And, in practice, although PD3E, paragraph 7.3, requires the court to consider each budget phase separately, and therefore to consider the proportionality of each phase total, the task has to be undertaken with an initial overall review of proportionality by reference to the factors in CPR44.3(5)…
The costs in the budget phases must not only be reasonable but must also bear a reasonable relationship with the proportionality factors I have indicated. The proportionality factors that are relevant are to be taken together and given notional weight as a whole. In these cases, the sums in issue are not large for High Court claims when taken in isolation. But when the proportionality factors are put together, the financial value of the claims proves to be relatively unimportant because of the wider factors. The budgets substantially exceed the sums in issue but is not a reason to conclude that the overall budgeted sums and the totals per phase are disproportionate.
It seems to me that the wider factors I have summarised, in particular the public importance and test case factors, will have the effect that if the costs are reasonable they are proportionate. That conclusion chimes with the approach the parties have adopted and avoids the court wielding a concept of uncertain application.”
UPDATING INCURRED COSTS – There was a considerable time period between the date that budgets were required to be filed and when the CCMC was listed. Mr Leslie updated his budget prior to the CCMC to include incurred costs up to 1 May 2018, however the other parties did not. The Master recognised the problems of one party updating the incurred costs and the other parties not, explaining that this approach resulted in Mr Leslie having “ousted the court's jurisdiction to consider a significant amount of expenditure” and consequently found that “the relevant date for the purposes of incurred costs as being 17 January 2018.”
This can be avoided by agreeing a date that the incurred costs are included up to and in turn obtaining the court’s permission to update the incurred costs.
HOURLY RATES – Chief Master Marsh refused to be drawn into the debate regarding hourly rates and instead considered the allocation of work in the budget between different grades of fee earner and the total figure claimed for each phase was of greater importance.
INTERIM HEARINGS – An amount for specific disclosure had been included in the disclosure phase, the Master found that the inclusion of interim hearings in the budget were wrong in principal as they may be subject to an inter partes costs order, the costs were moved into the contingency phase.
COSTS MANAGEMENT COSTS – The costs associated with costs management are subject to a 2% cap. Chief Master Marsh was asked to consider lifting the cap, he agreed on the basis that the complexities surrounding the multi-party litigation warranted exceptional circumstances in this case.
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