Haworth: New guideline rates will not lead to forum shopping
The new guideline hourly rates (GHR) will “hopefully” reduce points of dispute and replies by at least two pages “as well as endless hours of argument at detailed assessment”, former Costs Judge Peter Haworth has said.
The solicitor retired from the SCCO at the start of the year but is still sitting as a deputy judge. He is also a brand ambassador and advisor to costs firm A&M Bacon and, quoted on the firm’s website, he said one change of significance in the new Guide to the Summary Assessment of Costs was at paragraph 28, which makes clear that the GHR may also be a helpful starting point on detailed assessment.
He rejected the notion that the new London 1 band for heavy commercial claims would lead to forum shopping.
“Forum shopping to obtain the ‘heavy commercial rate’ for central London is unlikely to work in my view, with [circuit and district judges] being vigilant only to allow only local rates. See paragraph 31.
“Where all or part of the work on a case is done in a different location from that of the solicitor’s office on the court record, the appropriate hourly rate for that part should reflect the rates allowed for work in that location, whether that rate is lower or higher (provided that, if a higher rate is claimed, a decision to instruct solicitors in that location would have been reasonable).
“The location of a fee-earner doing the work is determined by reference to the office to which s/he is, or is predominantly, attached.”
Government to increase 129 court fees despite widespread opposition
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is to increase 129 court fees by inflation, backdated to 2016, despite opposition from 61% of respondents to its recent consultation.
The new fees across the civil, family and magistrates’ courts, as well as the Court of Protection, are expected to raise an additional £13m to £20m for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), with the income thresholds for the Help with Fees (HwF) scheme also rising by inflation.
“The government believes there is a strong justification to proceed with increasing certain court fees and the HwF income thresholds by inflation,” the MoJ said. “The proposed increases reflect historic inflation and are therefore not an increase in real terms.”
The MoJ said it appreciated that Covid-19 “has had an impact on individuals and businesses” but HwF was available for those who were unemployed or receiving benefits as a result of the pandemic.
“The government appreciates that some users might sometimes be frustrated by the service they receive. While, like the whole nation, the courts and tribunals have been affected by the pandemic, recovery is our priority.
“Far from HMCTS profiting from these fee increases; they simply represent the increase in the cost of providing the services.”
The MoJ said the net fee income of HMCTS was £724m in 2019/20, compared with the £2bn running costs of the civil and criminal courts.
Officials admitted that it was difficult to say exactly how much raising a particular fee would impact on demand, but said such research as there was indicated that there were several factors that went into the decision to go to court.