News in brief 21st January 2015

Sachdeva takes silk

Vikram Sachdeva of 39 Essex Street, a friend of the ACL who spoke at last year’s National Conference, was in the list of 93 barristers who achieved QC status last week. As well as costs and litigation funding, his broad practice includes administrative and public law as well as regulatory and disciplinary matters.

Most recently, he acted, along with Richard Spearman QC, for the claimant in successfully resisting an appeal against Blankley v Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust, which held that a CFA that the claimant had made in 2005, at a time when her capacity had fluctuated in the past and she was a person known to have fluctuating capacity, was not frustrated when she lost capacity in 2007.

We reported last week that another well-known costs counsel, Ben Williams of 4 New Square (and formerly 39 Essex Street), had also become a QC. They will formally take silk on 16 February.

Court fees on the rise

The government is to introduce an ‘enhanced’ court fee of 5% of the value of money claims over £10,000, and is now looking to increase the fee for general civil applications.

Enhanced fees are those that are above cost price and last week, finally announcing the outcome of a consultation that was published a year ago, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it was pressing ahead with the 5% fee with a cap of £10,000 – meaning that will be the fee for all claims worth £200,000 or more.

The new fees represent a massive increase of up to 622% and have been criticised for the potential impact on individuals and SMEs accessing the courts. However, the government said it believed the level of court fee was a secondary consideration for those considering litigating, while fee remissions were available and the fee would be recoverable if successful.

However, it has decided against introducing a higher cap on fees in commercial cases and daily hearing fees, a move widely welcomed.

But, saying it needed to find an extra £55m, the MoJ has started a new consultation – ending on 27 February – which proposes increasing the fees charged for county court possession proceedings from £280 to £355 (or £325 if using the Possession Claims Online facility), from which it expects to raise £17m a year.

Secondly, it proposes increasing the cost of applications without notice or by consent from £50 to £100, and from £155 to £255 for an application on notice which is contested. This would raise £38m a year.

There would be exemptions for applications to vary or extend an injunction for protection from harassment or violence, applications for a payment to be made from funds held in court, and applications made in proceedings brought under the Insolvency Act 1986.

CA slams ‘Dickensian’ litigation

The Court of Appeal was strongly critical last week of the way costs had been run up in a dispute over a boundary and right of way.

In Gilks and Anor v Hodgson and Anor [2015] EWCA Civ 5, costs of nearly £500,000 had been incurred when the damages awarded to the claimants were £3,500, while the disputed strip of land and right of way did not constitute the sole means of access to either party’s home.

Lord Justice Christopher Clarke said the enmity between the parties had caused them to incur costs and to use up the time of the courts to the detriment of other litigants, “to an extent grossly disproportionate to what was at stake”.

He added: “If parties, or one of them, insist on litigating in this way, it is difficult for the court to cut short their wasteful endeavours, however much it may try to do so. I hope that the example of this litigation may encourage others who are concerned in like disputes (and, as importantly, those who advise them) to take every step that they can to avoid the absurd waste of effort, time and cost (for both parties) which this case has involved.”

Lord Justice Bean said: “I only add how dismayed I have been by this Dickensian litigation… Yet, at a time when the courts are under great pressure, the battle between these two couples took up 10 days of court time – more than some murder trials – before Judge Armitage and a further three days in this court; and about half a million pounds has been spent in costs. It is almost as though Lord Woolf and other civil procedure reformers over the years have laboured in vain.”

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11 Mar 2015

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