Avid readers of BC Disease News will be aware that the Civil Justice Council’s (CJC) Guideline Hourly Rates (GHR) Working Group is currently occupied with the task of generating new recommendations for solicitors’ fees and these are scheduled to be published by the end of 2020.
Last month, however, Senior Costs Judge, Andrew Gordon-Saker, warned that reform of the existing GHR system may not materialise if the Council’s sub-committee persists in reviewing limited evidence.[i]
It had been Master Gordon-Saker’s understanding that the Group had received ‘useful data’, but insufficient information had been reported by legal professionals in respect of the past 18-months of costs assessments and agreements.
Calling for the disclosure of data ‘in any format, whether raw or refined’, he wrote a letter to the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL), stressing that:
‘… it is in everybody’s interests that we are able to recommend rates which are capable of being accepted, not only by the Master of the Rolls, but also by the profession and those who will be affected by them. The alternative is that we are left with the 2010 rates and wide inconsistencies of approach as to their continuing relevance and how they should be applied’.
Whilst the lack of proactive contributions might imply that the Council’s GHR appraisal has escaped under the radar, reports of litigators employing new tactics to inflate costs in recent weeks would appear to indicate otherwise.
Indeed, Litigation Futures divulged that legal representatives have been citing PLK & Ors (Court of Protection:Costs)  EWHC B28 (Costs) (we summarised this decision here), to argue for a 20% GHR for all civil cases across the board.[ii]
In one such case, a costs lawyer detailed the somewhat inevitable outcome, which was as follows:
‘Judge took into account that GHRs not changed for 10 years in reaching his own conclusion as to reasonable rates. PLK sidestepped as not being binding. In essence, same as before’.
In spite of this failed attempt, ACL Chair, Claire Green, admitted that it was ‘no surprise’ that litigators are challenging the courts to follow PLK, not least because the evidence base adduced in that case was formulated by ‘a great deal of preparatory work … with contributions made by multiple law firms’.
That being said, she, like Master Gordon-Saker, is urging law firms to ‘engage with the Group and provide the data it is seeking’.
[i] ‘News in brief - 15.10.2020’ (15 October 2020 Association of Costs Lawyers) <https://www.associationofcostslawyers.co.uk/%2FIndustry-News%2FPage-154/news-in-brief-15102020> accessed 29 October 2020.
[ii] Neil Rose, ‘Gordon-Saker: Lack of evidence threatens guideline rates review’ (19 October 2020 Litigation Futures) <https://www.litigationfutures.com/news/gordon-saker-lack-of-evidence-threatens-guideline-rates-review> accessed 28 October 2020.