The Court of Appeal has upheld the decision of both Master Gordon-Saker (at first instance) and HHJ Klein (on appeal) which we reported last year that the former client’s Points of Dispute on a Solicitors Act assessment between himself and his former solicitors were insufficiently particularised as to afford the solicitors to know the case against them and meaningfully respond in advance of the assessment hearing.
A challenge we are seeing increasingly often goes along the lines of:
“if the receiving party could have, but did not, obtain a fee remission then the fee in question was unreasonably incurred and is not payable by the paying party.”
There have been some competing first instance decisions, leaving the issue ripe for argument in each case.
This case highlightds the importance of familiarising yourself fully with the retainer documentation under which you are acting.
In the course of a detailed assessment in the SCCO Deputy Master Friston (costs judge) found that the conditional fee agreements (there were three, of which one “The Third Agreement” was relevant to the instant proceedings) were so confusing as to be almost incomprehensible.
Can a Part 36 Offer which excludes interest be validly made either generally or in the context of detailed assessment proceedings?
It is been an issue on which a number of judges have held diverging views.
In the present case, His Honour Judge Dight CBE, upholding Deputy Master Campbell’s first instance decision, had concluded that an offer exclusive of interest cannot be a valid Part 36 offer.
In contrast, in a matter we reported in May, Horne v Prescot (No 1) Ltd  EWHC 1322 (QB), Nicol J, dismissing an appeal from Master Nagalingam, held that, at least in the context of detailed assessment proceedings, an offer excluding interest can be an effective Part 36 offer.
So, what is the answer?
Overturning a first appeal decision of His Honour Judge Wulwik in the High Court, Lord Justice Newey determined that acceptance of a Part 36 Offer which referred to CPR 36.13 and offered to pay “costs to be subject to detailed assessment if not agreed” did not amount to contracting out of fixed costs, which continued to apply.
Master Victoria McCloud (sitting as a Deputy Costs Judge in the SCCO) determined preliminary issues in the course of a detailed assessment proceeding under the Solicitors Act 1974, namely:
whether the entirety of the solicitors’ fees were incurred with the client’s consent in the sum claimed; or, alternatively
if not whether at least the level of success fee was incurred with consent.
This was the first appeal in which the recoverability of inquest costs in civil claims has fallen to be considered since introduction of the Jackson reforms. It followed an assessment of costs by Deputy Master Keens in the SCCO when he allowed the sum of £88,356.22 as a against an original claim of £122,000 excl VAT. The claim was for damages for breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, negligence and misfeasance in public office following the death of Ms Jones who became ill at a police station.
The long awaited and much anticipated judgment in these appeals has been handed down.
The appeals raised a number of specific issues arising out of the respondent’s successful challenge on an assessment of the claimant’s costs to the amount of the ATE insurance premium recoverable by the appellants.
They also raised a number of wider points relating to reasonableness and proportionality and the proper approach to the assessment of costs.
This was an appeal against the decision of Master McCloud not to award the claimant a 10% ‘additional amount’ under CPR 36.17(4) on grounds that it would be disproportionate and unjust to do so where the claimant had beaten its own offer by just £7,000 on a bill assessed at £431,813.05.
Disagreeing with Judge Robert Owen QC in Potter v Sally Montague (Nottingham CC), HHJ Nicol found that a Part 36 Offer made in detailed assessment proceedings and expressed to be exclusive of interest was a valid Part 36 Offer.