Thursday, 27 July 2017

Costs Budgets: the fatal torpedo of delay

The recently reported authority of Lakhani & Another v. Mahud & Others [2017] EWHC1713 is salutary indeed.

In this case the Court refused to overturn a decision at first instance which had refused an extension of time for the filing of a Costs Budget (filed with the Court one day later than it should).
1.            Draconian consequences: the consequences attendant on the late filing of a Costs Budget can be draconian.  The relevant provisions are those of Civil Procedure Rule [CPR] 3.14.  These provisions state that any party failing to file a Costs Budget in time “will be treated as having filed a budget comprising only the applicable Court fees”.  In other words the party in default is debarred from claiming any part of their legal costs from their opponent, even if they are successful.  Claims for recovery of any professional fees are torpedoed.
2.            Escape hatches: should such a situation unhappily occur, the door is not necessarily locked.  The hapless solicitor can look to the following escape hatches to be found in the provisions of CPR 1.1(2)(a): the Court’s ability to ensure that parties are placed on an equal footing and those of CPR 3.9 which empower the Court to grant relief from sanctions.
3.            Mitchell: the leading case in this area is still that of Mitchell [2013] EWCA Civ 1537.  In that case the Costs Budget was filed substantially out of time and on the cusp of the Court Hearing appointed inter alia to consider and approve it.  The Claimant Mr. Mitchell’s application for relief from sanctions was refused and he was restricted to recovery of the Court fee alone (that is the fee paid to the Court on the issue of his legal action).
4.            The Three Stage Test: there followed Denton v. T.H. White Limited [2014] EWCA Civ 906.  In Denton the Court of Appeal decided that a three stage approach should be adopted:
Stage 1: there should be an assessment of the gravity or significance of the failure to comply.
Stage 2: if grave or significant, the reasons for breach should be considered and
Stage 3: the Court should then look to all the circumstances of the case and in particular those factors contained within CPR 3.9(1)(a) and (b) so as to deal with the application justly.
5.            CPR 3.9(1)(a) : this emphasises the need “for litigation to be conducted efficiently and at proportionate cost”

6.            CPR 3.9(1)(b): this obliges the Court “to enforce compliance with rules, practice directions and orders”.
7.            Mitchell and reasoning: in Mitchell Lord Justice Dyson the Master of the Rolls stated that “the Claimant’s non-compliance caused substantial extra work and extra costs to be incurred by the Defendant.  It also disrupted the work of the Court”.  (The Court had been obliged to vacate half a day which had earlier been allocated for asbestosis claims.)
In relation to factors (a) and (b) Lord Justice Dyson said “these considerations should now be regarded as of paramount importance and be given great weight.  It is significant that they are the only considerations which have been singled out for specific mention in the Rule”.
8.            Trivial Breach: the principle de minimis non curat lex (the law is not concerned with trivial things) applies.  The Court will normally be sympathetic if the failure to comply was insignificant (e.g. where a party has narrowly missed the deadline imposed by the Order but has otherwise fully complied with its terms).
9.            In contrast if the breach is serious or significant, the burden rests with the party in default to persuade the Court to grant relief.  The Court will want to consider why the default has occurred, thus bringing into play Stage 2.
10.          Good reason: if a good reason can be shown it is more likely than not that the Court will grant relief.  (For example where a party or their solicitor was suffering from a debilitating illness or involved in an accident such might well constitute good reason; late and unforeseeable developments in the litigation might also constitute good reasons.  Mere oversight is unlikely to suffice.)
The facts of Lakhani were these: on 18 November 2016 a Order had been made which required the parties to litigation to file and serve updated Costs Budgets 21 days before the hearing at which they would be considered, that is at a Costs and Case Management Conference [CCMC].
The CCMC was appointed for 10 January 2017.
The Claimant served his Costs Budget in time on 19 December 2016.  The Defendant’s solicitor did not do so until the following day, 20 December 2016.  The Defendant’s Costs Budget was one day late.  The Claimant contended that this triggered the automatic sanctions of CPR 3.14 and that the Defendant was therefore limited to the Court fee should it be successful in obtaining a Costs Order.
The Defendant failed to make a prompt Application for Relief: no attempt was made until the actual day of the CCMC.  The consequence was that a hearing originally listed for 45 minutes to approve Costs Budgets ran to half a day and was wholly dominated by the Defendant’s Application for relief from sanctions.  The Defendant’s Application was refused.
Lakhani: Appeal:
The Defendant Appealed; its Application came before Mr. Daniel Alexander QC sitting as a Deputy Judge of the Chancery Division.  The Learned Judge had regard to the provisions of CPR 3.9, Denton and Clearway Drainage Systems Limited v. Miles Smith Limited EWCA Civ 20161258.

Clearway: The First Stage:
Clearway related to an Appeal from an Order dated 21 June 2016 of Her Honour Judge Moulder, sitting as a Judge of the Queen’s Bench Division in the Manchester District Registry, which dismissed the Application of the Claimant Clearway from relief from sanctions in respect of its failure to serve Witness Statements in time with an allied failure to serve a Witness Summary.

On the facts the Judge said that the failure for over two months to serve Witness Statements (and to serve them less than a month before trial) had affected the efficient progress of the litigation (even if no particular prejudice was identified) and that such a prolonged failure over a period of months had to be viewed by the Court as serious or significant.
Clearway: the Second Stage:

Turning to the Second Stage identified in Denton, the Judge said that it seemed to her that there had been no good reason for the failure to serve the witness evidence in time.
(Clearway had contended that there were issues of disclosure which prevented their filing their witness evidence earlier in the day.  The Judge stated that it had been open to Clearway’s solicitors to make an Application to the Court well before the deadline for exchange of witness evidence and for Specific Disclosure of any documents believed to have been outstanding or required in order for them to deal with witness evidence competently).

Clearway had effectively disregarded the Court Order.
Lakhani: Court of Appeal review:

In Lakhani the Court proceeded to review the Three Stage Test adopted by the Deputy Judge in the Court below.  On Appeal the Court below had found that the breach had not been trivial but was serious.   The Court of Appeal took the view that the breach was borderline but of sufficient seriousness as would warrant the refusal to grant relief from sanctions.  There was no basis on which the Appeal Court could properly interfere with the decision or reasoning of the Court below in relation to the gravity of the breach.
The Court of Appeal proceeded to the Stage Two that is, an examination of whether the failure could be reasonably excused.  The Deputy Judge on Appeal concluded that it could not: there had been no reasonable misunderstanding of the requisite rules.  The Defendant’s solicitors had only commenced their preparations on the Costs Budget following receipt of the Claimant’s Costs Budget.  The work had been done at the last minute.  Apparently the Defendant’s solicitor had misread the rules: this could not be described as an understandable mistake.

Proceeding to Stage Three the Court was heavily influenced by the lateness of the Application.  Put another way, the Defendant’s solicitors’ delay in seeking to remedy the original default was of itself open to criticism.
Accordingly taking into account all of the circumstances of the case meant that there was no persuasive basis upon which to alter the decision of the Court below.

In relation to the filing of Costs Budgets the following lessons may properly be drawn; these are in many ways of general application in relation to the conduct of Civil Litigation in England and Wales.
(1)          All Court Orders are to be obeyed and every effort should be made to ensure timeous compliance therewith.
(2)          Breaches which might properly be classed or viewed as trivial or negligible will ordinarily justify relief from sanction.
(3)          Those which are serious or substantial will not.
(4)          If serious or substantial, then good reasons will need to be shown.
(5)          Even if good reasons are shown any Application for Relief must be made promptly and without delay.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Harrison & Merrix : the Death-Knell for Detailed Assessment?

There has been recent, not inconsiderable and expensive debate as to the relationship between the Court’s powers to control costs during the currency of litigation and the Court’s consequential rights to decide the level of those costs once the proceedings themselves have been done and dusted.
The recently reported authority of Merrix v. Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust (Judgment of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, Birmingham District Registry) considered this relationship.  Judgment was handed down on 24 February 2017.

The question for the Court was this:

“to what extent, if at all, does the costs budgeting regime under CPR Part 3 fetter the powers and discretion of the Costs Judge at a detailed assessment of costs under CPR Part 47?”
The Judgment in Merrix has now been upheld by a decision of the Court of Appeal in Harrison v. University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust [2017] EWCA Civ 792.

Before turning to a summary of the relevant case law and the Courts’ stated approach, the following Glossary may well prove helpful.

Legal proceedings involving claims of complexity or substantial sums of money or both.

Costs Management:
The power of the Court to control litigation costs by inter alia the imposition of Costs Budgets [Section II, Part 3 CPR].

Costs Management Order:
An Order made by the Court at a Costs Management Hearing in legal proceedings which approves the amount of each party’s Costs Budget in relation to future costs [CPR 3.15 (2)] (wholly exclusive of those costs which have been incurred prior to the hearing itself).

Exceptions to Costs Management:
Various types of claim are exempt from the Costs Management regime; these are:

1.            claims issued post-22 April 2014 for sums either quantified at or viewed as likely to be in excess of £10,000,000.
2.            claims issued post-6 April 2016 on behalf of infants (that is persons under 18).
3.            claims which are subject to a fixed or scale costs regime or
4.            where the Court orders otherwise.
Costs Budget: meaning:
Each party’s Costs Budget is considered at a Costs Management Hearing.  In plain terms a Costs Budget is:
1.            that amount which the Court decides is necessary to be spent upon each phase or category of litigation work (e.g. taking proofs of evidence).
2.            put another way, the notional available fund allocated by the Court to each phase of litigation work.
3.            in contrast, it is not a cap nor a fixed amount (that is, no floor, nor ceiling).
4.            in context a Costs Budget has been described as a “landscape” [per Mrs. Justice Carr: Merrix].  Whereas a detailed assessment is more akin to the “exploration of the terrain” of that costs landscape.
Costs Budget & other factors:
When giving its approval to any party’s Costs Budget the Court has a discretion to amend or reduce items in it.  In doing so the Court will take account of the following in particular:
1.            the need to observe proportionality (that is to ensure that the legal costs of any dispute bear a reasonable and proportionate relationship to the questions or amounts involved); and
2.            the overriding objective (that is, the central purpose upon which English legal procedure is now founded: to ensure that all claims are dealt with justly).
Detailed assessment of costs:
The procedure whereby the Court determines the level of costs payable to the Winning Party (the Receiving Party) by the Losing Party (the Paying Party) either under the terms of a Settlement or under a Court Order.
Standard Basis Costs:
A bias in favour of the Paying Party: if on detailed assessment there is any doubt over the reasonableness of any item of work claimed or the time spent upon it, that doubt is always resolved in favour of the Paying Party.
Indemnity Costs:
A bias in favour of the Receiving Party: on detailed assessment such if any doubt is always resolved in favour of the Receiving Party.
Costs curtains:
Whether standard basis or indemnity, any costs claims viewed as unreasonable in amount or unreasonably incurred will always be disallowed on a detailed assessment [CPR 44.3 (2)].
Additional Costs curtain: Proportionality:
As emphasised earlier, costs must bear a reasonable relationship to the amounts at stake.
Detailed Assessment of Costs: relevant factors:
On a detailed assessment the Court may take into account any or all of the following factors; these in turn may well inform the Court’s ultimate Costs Award:
·         the party’s conduct
·         any attempts to settle
·         the amount of the sums in dispute
·         importance
·         complexity, difficulty or novelty
·         the level of skill involved
·         the time spent thereon
·         the place at which the work was done; and
·         the contents of last Approved Costs Budget.

Merrix: synopsis:
Mrs. Merrix [M] was a successful Claimant against the Respondent Health Authority [HE].   She was awarded compensation for their clinical negligence.  During the case the Court made a Costs Management Order.  It approved Mrs. M’s Costs Budget in the total sum of circa £128,000.
£74,780 of that amount related to her estimated future costs.
Mrs. M’s claims settled before trial.  An appreciable portion of her estimated future costs were thereby avoided.  This meant that there was an underspend on her Approved Costs Budget.  Accordingly Mrs. M argued that her reduced costs should be allowed as she was under budget unless HE could show that there was a good reason to the contrary.
HE disagreed.  They wanted a full detailed assessment of Mrs. M’s costs.  They argued that simply because the Court had chosen to approve Mrs. M’s Costs Budget this was only one factor.  HE contended that detailed assessment should be at large; the earlier Approved Costs Budget should not be determinative nor bind the Court’s hands on a detailed assessment.
Mrs. M’s argument succeeded.
The Judge decided that where a Costs Management Order had been made, when assessing Mrs. M’s costs on the standard basis, the Costs Judge should not depart from the Receiving Party’s last approved or agreed Costs Budget unless satisfied that there was good reason to do so.
This approach applies as much as where the Receiving Party claims a sum equal to or less than their Approved Costs Budget as where they may seek to recover more than the amount of that Budget itself.
Harrison v. University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust [2017] EWCA Civ 792:
This was a decision of three Lord Justices of Appeal sitting in the Court of Appeal, Civil Division.  Their Lordships’ Judgment was handed down on 21 June 2017.
The questions for the Court of Appeal covered the same broad territory as Merrix and were these:
[Issue 1]: where a Costs Management Order [CMO] approving a Costs Budget has been made in litigation is a Costs Judge on a subsequent detailed assessment precluded from making an Award below the budgeted amount, unless satisfied that there is good reason to do so?  (The very same point as in Merrix); and
[Issue 2]: in relation to those costs incurred prior to the Budget (“incurred costs”) is the Court similarly constrained on a detailed assessment (that is, is it effectively bound by the amount of those incurred costs as notified to the Court, absent of good reason?)
Harrison: synopsis
The Respondent Mrs. Harrison [H] had undergone a caesarean section at a hospital operated by the Appellant [UCH].  Mrs. H’s compensation claims were limited to £50,000.  Eventually they settled before trial for £20,000.  Settlement was upon terms which provided for Mrs. H’s costs to be subject to detailed assessment and paid upon the standard basis.
During the currency of her claims there had been a Costs Management Order.  Mrs. H’s incurred costs were exempt from the Costs Management regime and had totalled some £108,000.
Mrs. H’ budgeted costs (that is future costs) had been approved by the Court at £89,000.
Following settlement of her compensation claims, Mrs. H’s solicitors submitted a Bill of Costs for detailed assessment.  This came to over £467,000. (The Bill included a Success Fee and a claim for the refund of a premium paid for insurance protection against the risk of Mrs. H having to meet her opponent’s costs).
CPR 3.17:
The Court of Appeal considered the following provisions of CPR 3.17:
“in any case where a Costs Management Order has been made, when assessing costs on the standard basis, the Court will –
(a)  have regard to the Receiving Party’s last approved or agreed budget for each phase of the proceedings;

(b)  not depart from such approved or agreed budget unless satisfied that there is good reason to do so”
Issue 1: Approved Costs Budgets
In relation to Issue 1 the Court of Appeal upheld Merrix and in full.
An Approved Costs Budget was viewed as effectively determinative; the Court stated that no departure from it should be made without good reason.
Issue 2 : incurred costs
On Issue 2 the Court of Appeal’s decision provided equal clarity and certitude: all costs which had been incurred prior to the date of the Costs Budget (that is, incurred costs) fell outside the Costs Management regime.
This meant that if a party has been ordered to pay incurred costs but later requests those incurred costs to be subject to detailed assessment, that detailed assessment will be conducted in the usual way.
There is therefore no added requirement for the Receiving Party to show good reason if their Bill of Costs submitted for detailed assessment differs markedly from the quantum of incurred costs notified to the Court on a Costs Management Hearing (albeit undoubtedly the Receiving Party will be required to justify any marked increases).
On detailed assessment the Court will continue to apply the tests of reasonableness and proportionality when deciding the level of costs that the Receiving Party can recover.
Good reason:
What might be a good reason as would justify the Receiving Party’s ability to depart from their Approved Costs Budget?
The view respectfully taken is that such would constitute an item of work either novel, untoward and entirely unforeseen or unforeseeable at the point of the making of the Costs Management Order (that is the Court’s approval to the Costs Budget).
Support for this view may be gleaned from the following Authorities:
1.            Elvanite Full Circle Limited v. AMEC Earth & Environmental (UK) Limited [2013] EWHC 1643 [TCC].  In this case the Court was of the view that where expert evidence had not been anticipated nor provided for in the budget but was subsequently required this was a sufficient good reason to support departure.
2.            Churchill v. Boot [2016] EWHC 1322 [QB] is a case in contrast.  The Court refused the Claimant’s Appeal (against a decision of the Court below) rejecting an Application to amend his Costs Budget.  In Churchill the costs claim had doubled, there had been a delay in getting to trial by between 6 to 9 months, additional disclosure had been necessary and this in turn had led to the need to make and serve updated evidence.  The Court took the view that the case “had gone out of control” and that there had been “no regard nor respect for” the budget and the amount that the Court had earlier allowed to be spent.  This, it is submitted, is an instance at the somewhat extreme end of the costs spectrum.
1.            The purpose of a Costs Budget is effectively to curtail the need for detailed assessment.  At the end of the dispute when seeking to agree costs all parties should be guided by the Approved Costs Budget.  Only if there is a good reason should there be any appreciable departure therefrom.
2.            Should a Receiving Party’s actual costs fall below those which were contained within their Approved Costs Budget this is not a departure from it.
3.            A departure only occurs where a Receiving Party attempts to recover sums going appreciably beyond their Approved Costs Budget: in that event good reason needs to be shown.
4.            Incurred costs (that is those incurred prior to the date of the Costs Management Order) fall outside the scope of the Costs Management regime.  Nonetheless on a detailed assessment there must, it is respectfully submitted, be a reasonable nexus between:
(i)       the amount of incurred costs notified to the Court on a Case Management Hearing and
(ii)      those ultimately claimed within the Bill of Costs upon a detailed assessment.
5.            On detailed assessment, when the Court comes to consider both the quantum of:
(i)         budgeted costs (no departure therefrom without good reason) and
(ii)        incurred costs
the Costs Judge is still obliged to take the resulting aggregate figure of both categories and decide whether the costs overall subscribe to the proportionate.
6.            The purpose of the Costs Budget regime and its implementation ought to limit the scope or need for a detailed assessment of budgeted costs at the end of the day and considerably so.
7.            A good reason for departure from a Costs Budget is likely to be founded upon matters which were not foreseen at the point of the Costs Management Order but which if allowed still subscribe to the proportionate and reasonable.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Appeals: not worth the candle?

“I burnt one candle to seek another, and lost bothe my time and my trauell (work)”
(Stephen Gosson : The Ephemerides of Phialo, 1579)

Poor Mr. Gosson would appear to have fared badly: the meagre earnings from his midnight candle were only sufficient to pay for the cost of its replacement!  Perhaps a little forethought would have been in order.

Caution must also be an essential watchword - when deciding whether to incur the costs of an Appeal – particularly if you are seeking to challenge the discretion exercised by the Court below.


The recently reported authority of EIL v. Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council is a case in point;  it makes for salutary reading.

The adult Claimant (EIL) claimed damages arising from a teacher’s sexual assault upon him when a pupil at a comprehensive school.  It is now settled law that a local authority may be held liable for such a matter, if the occasion for the assault has arisen from the employment of the teacher in question.

CMC and costs

In keeping with current practice the Court was required to examine the Pretrial costs of the parties.

Those costs were considered at a special hearing known as a Costs and Case Management Conference (CMC).

There were two elements of costs involved:

(a) the parties’ actual costs incurred to the CMC; and
(b) those further costs estimated to include trial.

Prior to the CMC each party had submitted details of (a) and (b).

Costs Budget

The conduct of all Civil Litigation in England and Wales (including for instance a CMC) are governed by the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR).  CPR 3.15 empowers the Court to:

“manage the costs incurred (and in respect of future costs) to set a budget.”

Setting a Costs Budget may have a dramatic and beneficial impact.

Knowing the overall costs in store should serve wonderfully to concentrate all parties’ minds and encourage them to look at economic ways of bringing an early end to their particular dispute.

Such knowledge provides a clear persuasive impetus for compromise.

Detailed Assessment of Costs

If part of negotiations to settle include a request by one party to contribute towards their costs what is the solution if the contribution is acceptable in principle but the amount cannot be agreed?

Might the opportunity of an early settlement be lost solely because of costs considerations?
The solution can be straightforward: it is open to the parties to agree terms of compromise which include the condition that any costs contribution be assessed by the Court.

This is known as a detailed assessment of costs which – in relation to any sums below £50,000 normally takes place before a Costs Officer; higher than that the assessment is carried out by a Costs Judge.

Approved Costs Budget : determinative

When it comes to detailed assessment (under CPR 3.18) a Costs Judge will usually rely upon the last approved Costs Budget.  The Costs Judge will not lightly depart from it - unless satisfied that there is good reason for so doing.

ELI v. Knowsley MBC

At the CMC the Claimant’s (a) actual costs and (b) estimated fees were roughly equivalent to each other.  They totalled £104,373.

The main question was whether EIL’s earlier delay in bringing his claim should bar him from proceeding.  If, on the other hand, he was allowed to continue, what then were the steps required to prepare his compensation claims for trial?  How much should be allowed in the way of a costs budget for that work?

The Court was quite scathing in its criticism of the Claimant’s costs claimed; it described  (b), the estimate, as excessive or outrageous.

Court’s Costs Ruling

Following argument, the Court allowed the Claimant £55,397.75 (about £30,000 of actual costs and another £25,000 or so for future costs).

The Claimant was not happy at the Court limiting his costs in this way.

Two sums had been claimed for the costs of the CMC:

(i) actual costs incurred (to the point at which the Costs Statement had been prepared): £2,493.50; and
(ii) the Claimant’s estimated further costs of the CMC (which - by the time of the CMC - had been incurred too): £2,310.00.

At the CMC the Court agreed to allow (i) in full but awarded nothing for the estimated costs at (ii).

Accordingly the Court confined the Claimant’s total costs of the CMC to £2,493.50.

Double Jeopardy

The Court had been trenchant in its criticisms of the Claimant’s costs levels.

The Claimant had already lost effectively half of his costs of the CMC.  If there were a detailed assessment might there be further inroads made into the figure of £2,493.50?

In other words, was there a risk of double jeopardy?


Amongst other points, the Claimant chose to Appeal the Court’s decision to limit his costs of the CMC.

The Appellate Court viewed the Claimant’s fears as well founded: it recognised that there was a real risk that a Costs Judge might take an axe to the sum allowed for the CMC (£2,493.50) because of the Lower Court’s earlier costs criticisms.

Approved Costs Budget

The Appellate Court subscribed to the beauty of simplicity: it adjudged that the £2,493.50 awarded at the CMC should be treated as an Approved Sum.  This meant that even if there was a detailed assessment, the Costs Judge was effectively bound by this figure.

This gave the Claimant elemental protection.


However there was an unhappy sting in the tail.

Allowing for other items on Appeal, the Claimant’s Appeal costs overall had amounted to shortly over £11,500.

When presented with these Appeal costs the Appellate Judge held that the Claimant’s Appeal could not have been:

“a sensible expenditure of money, a proportionate use of Court time or a rational exercise at all that costs of this Order should have been incurred in pursuing so very little.”

Accordingly the Claimant ultimately lost out, he was not awarded the not insignificant costs of his Appeal.


There are some useful reminders or pointers.

(1) Compromise

Put shortly the Claimant had had a number of points which he legitimately wished to pursue on Appeal.  Compromise of his claims changed all of that.  It limited the range of arguments to one or two items including the costs of the CMC.  The scenery had shifted.

(2) Costs/Benefit Ratio

Given that the scope and range of arguments by the time of the Appeal hearing had radically reduced (owing to the pretrial settlement) it was essential to conduct a ruthless examination of the likely costs/benefit ratio of continuing.

Put bluntly, when all was said and done, would the likely costs of Appeal be worth the candle?

The Appellate Court clearly thought not.

Accordingly it is wise to tread warily when looking to pursue the time and costs of an Appeal.  Careful assessment needs to be made of the benefits that might ensue - in comparison with the inevitable burden of costs that an Appeal would incur.

Death of the Stone Age and Dawn of the Protocol

With the advent of the Civil Procedure Rules (in 1999) old style approaches to disputes and claims were cast into the Neolithic and heralded a new dawn for dispute resolution.

Woolly mammoths of disputes could no longer be rendered safe by the flint-tipped spears of aggressive litigation.

Rather (and for the past 15 years) the emphasis has been upon steps and procedures to tame and nullify the beast.

What is a Preaction Protocol?

It is a means by which the parties and their legal advisers are encouraged to try and settle their claims before the start of Court proceedings (or unhappily, where those proceedings have begun at least to assist the Court in ensuring that the case is efficiently run).

How might this be achieved?

At heart is the need for all parties to engage in the exchange of early information, including production of all relevant documents and evidence.

What happens in practice?

In summary the party claiming recompense (the Claimant) must serve a formal Letter of Claim.  This must contain as much information as possible to do with their case and if need be append relevant documents upon which that party needs to rely (for example a contract, invoices or relevant correspondence which supports the party’s claim).

The recipient (the Respondent) in turn is allowed the opportunity to respond: this is known as the Letter of Answer.

If that response raises fresh or new questions then the Claimant is normally allowed an opportunity to put in a Letter of Reply.

Through such correspondence the parties should arrive at a position where each is aware of the case that they have to meet and then attempt a broadly informed assessment of strengths and weaknesses on either side.

Such an assessment is likely to inform the timing and content of negotiations to try and settle matters before they go to Court.

Even if say fault or liability is conceded there may be other disputes (over perhaps the amount of compensation claimed); even so, litigation is not the immediate answer.

Rather the parties must properly look to try and resolve their differences through the employment of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). such as without prejudice negotiations, meetings face-to-face and possible mediation or arbitration.

Going to Court is now viewed as a step of last resort.

What if I choose not to adopt a Protocol or follow ADR?

The Courts will take a close and hard look as to how the parties were conducting themselves in the period leading to litigation.

What might amount to non-compliance?

The Court may conclude that a party has failed to comply with Preaction Protocol conduct where they have:
  • failed to provide sufficient information to enable the other party to understand the real questions in the case;
  • not acted within either reasonable or mandatory time limits;
  • unreasonably refused to consider and pursue ADR; or
  • for no good reason have failed to disclose documents requested.

How might the Court deal with non-compliance?

Should the Court decide that one party is in breach a range of options lay open including:
  • stay: that is putting the litigation on ice until the proper steps have been taken to implement a Protocol or pursue ADR;
  • costs sanctions;punishing parties by depriving them of interest which might have accrued on a potential award;  or
  • the award of punitive rates of interest in addition.

Do certain kinds of disputes have a particular Protocol?

The answer is yes.

There are currently eleven types of disputes to which fixed Protocols apply, including (for example):

  •          Personal Injury
  •          Clinical Disputes
  •         Professional Negligence
  •         Housing Disrepair
  •         Possession Claims (based upon either rent arrears or mortgage arrears)
  •         Dilapidations (affecting commercial property).

However if no mandatory Protocol exists a cautious client allied with the prudent practitioner will take care to ensure that one is formulated and adopted.

This Article cannot wholly do justice to the underlying complexities and strategic benefits attendant upon the imaginative deployment of a Protocol.

What about the costs?

It is impossible to be prescriptive.

A word of warning, however : the prosecution of a Protocol claim can result in an appreciable stratum of expense.

Care must be taken to see whether and to what extent all or at least part of that expense might be recoverable as part of any settlement.

Accordingly it is essential to examine - if looking at compromise - the feasibility of a condition requiring your opponent to make a financial contribution toward the costs of your successful Protocol claim.

If in turn there is a dispute over the level of that costs award it is open to the parties to agree for these to be decided by the Court under a separate process known as detailed assessment of costs.

The early deployment of a Protocol - allied with imaginative strategies which emphasise commercial resolution - are much to be preferred to the time, stress and expense of Neolithic litigation.

"Shock & Surprise"

Who in the legal profession today is still not the occasional beneficiary of letters from other solicitors which begin testily and rapidly move into overdrive?

A few choice illustrations ought to suffice, as in:

“We are…
  •          shocked and surprised
  •         quite taken aback
  •          irremediably astonished
  •          utterly and professionally aghast.”

and so on, so forth.

In fact, the authors of such communications rarely ever are.

Often and regrettably their true aims are to capture the moral high ground and on the road to so doing:

(i)            create diversionary tactics (solely to deflect and distract from the real questions in the case)
(ii)           attempt to sew the seeds of discord (when your client - naturally being copied with such a communication – questions what on earth you might have said or done to have been the deserving beneficiary of such invective)
(iii)          most sinister of all, portray you as a professional in a less than flattering light (particularly if your opponent should seek to rely upon its content if your client’s case should ever get to Court).

This is not to say that there is not the odd unhappy instance when it is necessary to challenge conduct or attitude which borders on the unprofessional and in forceful terms.

However ready resort to hyperbole or protestations of exaggerated hurt is perhaps best avoided.

After all, we are wordsmiths;  as such we should properly derive genuine professional pride when it comes to the framing of criticisms on terms which do not occasion undue offence but rather drive home our points formidably but courteously.

Eloquent understatement (in contrast to patent outrage and shows of ire) - whatever the perceived provocation - not only subscribes to the professionally fitting, but may prove a more useful tool in creating a climate for amicable negotiation and ultimately commercial resolution.

So, when it comes to the tenor of all communications, whatever the circumstances, far better perhaps to leave the legal loudhailer in a dusty corner… and look to more temperate means of making one’s point.

Costs Claims: Beware

Upon the resolution of a legal dispute by way of trial and judgment, the Court usually has to decide whether Costs Orders should be made, in whose favour and how those costs are to be borne by the parties.

The general rule of thumb is that costs follow the event, which in layman’s terms means that the loser pays the winner’s costs or rather a contribution thereto.

Clients engaged on costs recovery (and indeed those advising them) would do well to take a more than passing glance at the recently reported case of BNM v. MGN Limited [2016] EWHC B13 (Costs).

The case was brought by a primary school teacher who had been in a relationship with a Premiership footballer against the Sunday People, who had come into possession of her lost mobile phone, but this judgment just concerned her legal costs.

The Court came to consider a Bill of Costs payable by the losing party of shortly over £240,000.  It was the task of the Court to decide what items of work falling within that figure were reasonable and supportable and accordingly should be reimbursed to the winning party.

The Court decided that the losing party should pay just over £167,000 by way of contribution.

However a separate and singular question arose:

            To what extent might any part of that £167,000 be considered disproportionate?

On further hearing the Senior Costs Judge made further reductions on the grounds that a substantial element of what had earlier been allowed was disproportionate.

Eventually the Bill was reduced by almost 50% to circa £84,800.

In arriving at its conclusion the Court placed emphasis upon Rupert Jackson’s final report into the costs regime: Sir Rupert said (and I respectfully quote therefrom):

“I propose that in an assessment of costs on the standard basis, proportionality should prevail over reasonableness and the proportionality test should be applied on a global basis… the Court should first make an assessment of reasonable costs… the Court should then stand back and consider whether the total figure is proportionate (and if not)… the Court should make an appropriate reduction”

Putting matters in context, this was a Bill of Costs which was broadly in two parts:
  • the base costs, i.e. the actual costs of the work carried out allied with
  • a success fee.

Of signal influence was the fact that the total costs initially allowed (£284,000) bore little relationship to the actual financial value of the claim.

On the facts the claim was one of modest financial quantum.   Other items of loss were not large either.

Although not a run of the mill case and even though the Court considered that it was reasonable for legal proceedings to have issued, the Court found that little additional work had been created by the Defendant’s conduct and that there were no wider nor more important factors at play.   The claim had also settled at a relatively early stage, the scope of the evidence had been limited and the claims were not founded on questions that were factually or legally complex.

Taking all of these items on board the Court determined that a proportionate amount would be about half of that which had been earlier allowed and moreover that the success fee did not bear a reasonable relationship to the financial value and again this was reduced by about half.

Although certain elements render this case facts-specific, there are broader principles at play.

The author respectfully submits that considerations of proportionality will now have an overarching effect upon costs recovery and that it is important to maintain a keen and ruthless eye on the relationship between:
  • costs levels and
  •  the overall or probable likely values of any particular claim or likely extent of financial recompense.