How Relevant Is The SCCO Guide To Hourly Rates?
The SCCO Guide To Hourly Rates was last updated in 2010.
In 2014 it was reviewed by the then Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson MR, but left unchanged due to a lack of reliable evidence.
But how relevant is the guide six years on?
In September 2019, Mr Justice O’Farrell, when dealing with a summary assessment of costs in Ohpen Operations UK Ltd v Invesco Fund Managers Ltd  EWHC 2504, said:
“the hourly rates of the defendant’s solicitors are much higher than the SCCO guideline rates. It is unsatisfactory that the guidelines are based on rates fixed in 2010 and reviewed in 2014, as they are not helpful in determining reasonable rates in 2019. The guideline rates are significantly lower than the current hourly rates in many London City solicitors, as used by both parties in this case. Further, updated guidelines would be very welcome.”
It has been said by some that Ohpen was a complex and technical dispute run by City solicitors but that for the general run of cases, the guidelines remain a good and reliable tool.
Many paying parties take it further, arguing in all but the most complex of cases that they are both the starting and finishing point and should be almost slavishly adhered to.
However, this argument appears to be losing ground.
On a further summary assessment of costs in December 2019 in London Borough of Camden Council & Anor v Saint Benedict’s Land Trust Ltd  EWHC 3576 (Ch), Mr Justice Snowden had the following to say:
“Th[e Grade D fee earner time] has been charged at [a] rate [of] £250 per hour… SBLT points out that the Guideline Rate in Appendix 2 of the Guide to Summary Assessment of Costs for a grade D fee-earner in Wigan is £111 per hour. Realistically recognising that such guideline rates are now well out of date, SBLT accepts that this figure should be increased, but contends that it should simply be indexed using RPI to between £140 and £150 per hour…
“the Guideline rate of £111 per hour for a grade D fee earner is patently not a reliable guide in terms of current market rates. Nor is it directly applicable to a case such as the present which, although not concerning a subject matter which is inherently very complex, has been made considerably more demanding by the inappropriate actions of SBLT. In my judgment a reasonable charging rate for the grade D fee-earner in this case would be £200 per hour.”
So, a Grade D fee earner dealing with an uncomplex case in Wigan can attract a rate equivalent to 180% of the guideline.
Most recently, in March 2020, following the decision in Fuseon Limited v Senior Courts Costs Office  EWHC 126 (Admin) the matter was remitted by Lane J to the senior costs judge, Master Gordon-Saker in the SCCO.
In determining the appropriate rates to apply in Fuseon Ltd, R (On the Application Of) v Shinners  EWHC B18 (Costs) the Master said:
“The guideline rates are of course just that. They are fairly blunt instruments designed to assist judges in the summary assessment of costs. The passage of time since 2010 means that they tend now to be used as a starting position rather than as carved in stone.”
If this trend away from reliance upon outdated guideline rates continues a growing number of paying parties may well be joining the calls for an urgent and much needed review.
STOP PRESS: See our article on Master Whalan’s encouraging decision on hourly rates in The Matters of 1. PLK 2. Aayan Ahmed Thakur 3. Nathanial Chapman 4. Paul Nigel Tate.