In March last year we reported on the decision in Salmon v Barts Health NHS Trust  wherein HHJ Dight held that if the sum claimed on assessment in any given phase of a bill is lower than the budgeted figure for that phase, because the anticipated work had not been completed and/or by virtue of the indemnity principle, this is, in and of itself, capable of being a ‘good reason to depart’ under CPR 3.18(b) thus opening that phase to a traditional line by line assessment.
Following the dismissal of all claims by the High Court in this construction dispute, and an award of costs on the standard basis to the appellant (defendant), the Court of Appeal had to determine three issues, namely:
a) Whether it was a case in which the respondents’ pursuit of what were said to be “speculative, weak, opportunistic or thin claims” could properly be described as out of the norm such as to warrant an order for indemnity costs.
b) Whether the respondents’ failures to accept and subsequently to beat the appellant’s Part 36 offer, made at a very early stage in the proceedings, also meant (either separately or taken cumulatively with the pursuit of these particular claims) that an order for indemnity costs was warranted.
c) The relevance, if any, of the fact that the appellant’s approved costs budget was said to be £415,000, but that any assessment on the indemnity basis would start at the appellant’s actual costs figure of not less than £724, 265.
Lionel Persey QC sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court granted the Defendants relief from sanctions following the late filing of their costs budget by 13 days. It was accepted that the breach had been inadvertent and understandable given that the Defendants had been relying on an agreed table of procedural steps to be completed before the CCMC, which made no mention of costs budgeting. It was found that the Defendants had “dropped the ball” but that their default was not egregious in the particular circumstances of the case.
The appellants in this case are former clients of the respondent firm of solicitors. They alleged that in the course of a contentious probate dispute concerning the will and estate of their late father, an oral agreement had been reached to cap their legal costs to those set out in their Precedent H costs budget. At first instance Master Whalan found that there had been no such agreement. This was upheld on appeal by Mr Justice Stewart. The decision provides a useful round up and examination of the law and principles related to both an appellate court’s approach to findings of fact and contractual interpretation.
This was a decision regarding alleged mis-certification of a costs budget. The case bore similarities to the facts in Tucker v Griffiths and Hampshire University Hospitals NHS Trust, another decision of Master Rowley. Both parties were critical of Master Rowley’s decision in Tucker, the defendant complaining that it was too lenient and the claimant contending that it had been too harsh as a finding of misconduct under CPR 44.11 had not been warranted on the facts.
The was an application by the defendant in a business dispute to upwardly revise his costs budget under PD3E s7.6 by reason of various ‘significant developments’ in the litigation including additional costs involved in answering a request for further information and an increase in the number of documents that had been required to review. The application was unsuccessful primarily due to the fact that the increased costs had, it was held, arisen due to the defendant’s own actions in failing to properly clarify his case, despite two court orders to do so. Furthermore, the extent to which his legal team were required to review disclosure documentation was something which should reasonably have been anticipated.
HHJ Dight finds on appeal that the fact that the sum claimed on assessment in any given phase of a bill is lower than the budgeted figure for that phase, because the anticipated work had not been completed and/or by virtue of the indemnity principle, is itself capable of being a ‘good reason to depart’ under CPR 3.18(b). Once CPR 3.18(b) had been invoked it was then open to the paying party to challenge the figure which was then being claimed by the receiving party, and they did not have to assert a further good reason to enable the court to do so.
Mr Justice Warby comments on hourly rates and the appropriate use of partner time in the course of setting costs budgets
Master Davison approves the majority of a 78% increase in the disclosure phase of the claimant’s costs budget following disclosure “of a scale and complexity that [was] much larger than was actually budgeted for” commenting that “the bar for what constitutes a significant development should not be set too high”