News in brief 9th June 2016

SCCO workload up to record level

The Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) saw a 5% increase in its caseload last year, the latest civil justice statistics have shown.

They said that, in 2015, 15,943 assessments were received in the SCCO, of which 46% were receivers’ costs in the Court of Protection and 33% were civil legal aid assessments. This is the highest figure for many years, with a previous peak of 13,772 assessments in 2005 only beaten in 2014.

Court of Protection cases mainly account for the increase in that time, as the 3,194 ‘between the parties’ assessments in 2015 – 20% of the total – is only slightly more than the 3,194 in 2015.

Last year also saw a record low in the fourth category of bill dealt with by the SCCO – appeals against determinations of costs in the Crown Court. There were 244 in 2015, down from a record high of 569 the year before and below the overall trend over the past decade.

Wait goes on for CFA assignment authority

The recent high-profile ruling on the assignment of conditional fee agreements (CFAs) will not be going to the Court of Appeal, despite expectations that it would. Simon Gibson, managing partner of SGI Legal, which acted for the claimant in Jones v Spire Healthcare, said he had received notification that the defendant did not intend to appeal.

In Jones, HHJ Graham Wood QC held he was bound by the 2006 High Court ruling in Jenkins v Young Brothers Transport Ltd [2006] EWHC 151 and found that the assignment from insolvent Southport law firm Barnetts to SGI Legal was valid.

The issue still seems likely to reach the Court of Appeal, with the defendant in Budana v Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust having asked for the case to be leapfrogged to the Court of Appeal. District Judge Besford, an honorary vice-president of the ACL, held that the CFA in this case was not validly assigned because the agreement had been terminated prior to the assignment when the original firm closed its personal injury practice. A decision on the leapfrog application is expected shortly.

Costs litigation “horror”

The Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson said last week that he was “horrified that costs litigation is now a recognised specialism”, according to a report in the Law Society Gazette.

In a speech to Leeds Law Society, he was said also to have repeated his support for the introduction of fixed fees across the fast-track and ‘lower reaches’ of the multi-track, noting that fixed costs would also reduce the need for costs budgeting.

Acknowledging that the government has, in principle, agreed to extend the scope of fixed costs, Lord Dyson was quoted as saying: “It’s going to happen. It’s going to take a long time. It will be subject to consultation. I suspect there may not be too much resistance to the principle of extending fixed costs. I have little doubt, however, that many will have a lot to say about where the cut-off should be in the multi-track, perhaps even more so as to the figures that are to be determined for the fixed costs.”

The report said Lord Dyson also revealed that Lord Chancellor Michael Gove had expressed interest in a contingency legal aid fund, “not least because he is not keen on CFAs. At a meeting I attended with him only recently, he expressed his dislike of the idea of CFAs because he thought it was wrong in principle that lawyers should have a financial stake in the outcome of litigation”.

Nonetheless, it said Lord Dyson questioned whether a fund would be established: “The rock on which that idea foundered when it was last considered some years ago was the lack of money to provide the seed core for which this crop could grow. I fear that this may happen again. I hope not, because, in principle, I think it is an excellent idea.”

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Costs News
Published date
22 Aug 2016

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