Clamping down on legal costs – the weapons that can be deployed


20 October 2021

In the High Court case of Barking, Havering & Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust v AKC [2021] EWHC 2607 (QB) Mrs Justice Steyn allowed the defendant’s appeal and subsequently struck out the claimant’s bill of costs. The judgment provides guidance as to the amount of detail which it to be provided in a bill of costs.

Many Registered Providers will be all too familiar with eye watering level of tenant lawyer’s costs when seemingly very little has been done other than to delay inspections and repairs being carried out. This case sets out some useful guidance which can help keep a landlord’s exposure to costs down.

Facts

The first thing to mention is that this was not a housing condition claim, the court was assessing the claimant’s costs in a clinical negligence case; the defendant had applied to strike out the bill of costs on two main grounds. Firstly, the signatory could not be identified. Secondly, the bill did not provide adequate information for each of the fee earners. The costs judge did not strike it out and refused permission to appeal, however, on appeal it was ultimately struck out.

Law and Judgment

Regarding the first ground of appeal the Judge found that CPR 47 PD para 5.21 alongside Precedent F requires that the bill be attested formally and that the certification should not be treated as a mere formality. A formal certification of the bill of costs by an officer of the court lends a presumption of trust to the document. Although the provisions referred to do not require the signatory to be identified, the Judge held that as a matter of ordinary interpretation they must be identifiable. The signatory must be identifiable so that should anything go wrong or be untoward this can be investigated and consequences flow.

Regarding the second ground of appeal, the question surrounded the interpretation of CPR 47 PD paragraph 5.11(2) and what requirements flow from this provision. The court held that where a party is seeking to claim the costs of their legal representative paragraph 5.11 requires each employee’s status and hourly rate to be listed separately in the bill of costs. It is not sufficient to provide details for each category of fee earner. The idea being that the increased clarity and breakdown will help the other side and the court to identify duplication or improperly incurred costs. Additionally, in the bill of costs it appears as though some information as to the experience each fee earner has would be expected. The Judge stated that she would expect each fee earner’s status to include their professional qualification and the number of years of post-qualification experience.

Comment

There are a number of takeaways from this judgment for all practitioners and clients. Firstly, the court is less likely to approve an overly general statement of costs as there is the possibility of duplication and the hope seems to be that with extra information being provided this should prevent parties looking to pad out their bill of costs. This means that when drafting the bill of costs clarity and accuracy is paramount.

Secondly, whenever a bill of costs is received it is essential to review the document with these considerations in mind. Do not simply accept what is provided and if you do not have the experience to review it properly instruct a firm of solicitors who can because it can save a significant amount of money.

Thirdly, when reviewing the bill be critical of the amount of detail included, is it sufficient to allow for a reasonable understanding of how the other side have spent their money. This judgment is another weapon in the arsenal that can be wielded against firms who do not provide sufficient detail in their statements of costs.

How Birketts can help?

Birketts has a dedicated team of cost lawyers, including Sarah Burwood, Kelly Townshend and Melanie Bonté, available to review and negotiate on our clients’ behalf disproportionate claims for costs that our clients receive from third party law firms. Our team of costs lawyers can prepare Points of Dispute, negotiate settlement of a bill of costs and attend Detailed Assessment hearings. We can do this either on the basis of hourly rates agreed in advance or as a fixed percentage of the costs saving achieved. Please contact us if you would like to discuss how our cost lawyers can help minimise your expenditure at the end of a legal case should you receive a Bill of Costs from the other side.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at October 2021.

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