The solicitors acting for Sir Philip (pictured) in his high-profile claim against the Daily Telegraph cannot charge more than £550 an hour for their lead partner, Mr Justice Warby has decided.
Sir Philip and two of his companies continue to seek an injunction to restrain the Telegraph Media Group from publishing information about them; while Sir Philip’s name was revealed under the cloak of parliamentary privilege, the underlying details remain protected by an interim injunction.
Warby J’s ruling yesterday concerned a series of preliminary matters, including costs budgeting. It was happening only two weeks before trial, but the judge said this was “commonplace when a case begins with an urgent application for an interim injunction, and an order is made for a speedy trial”.
This meant in practice that a large proportion of the costs of the action had already been incurred, meaning he was only able to budget in relation to the pre-trial review, trial preparation and trial phases.
While he commented that some on the claimant’s side were “very high, and much higher than those incurred by the defendants” – such as £472,757 for witness statements, roughly five times the defendant’s figure – the judge said it was not “helpful or fair to go further” as he did not have time to go into the reasons for such disparities.
Warby J allowed £541,059 for the claimants for the budgeted phases and £495,477 for the defendants. While leaving the detail to the schedules of the order he was making, he added: “In cases like this, proportionality cannot be assessed by reference to any damages claim, or any other financial yardstick. Although budgeting is not the same as detailed assessment, it is almost inescapable for the court to give some thought to the hours and hourly rates that are justified for the work in question.”
The hourly rates claimed by the claimants’ solicitors, Schillings, ranged from £190 for a trainee to £690 for a partner, with other partners’ rates between £510 and £635 per hour. He said both he and the defendant – whose solicitors were claiming up to £450 per hour – accepted that fees above the guideline rates were justified.
“But not to the extent of the differences here. I do not consider that hourly rates in excess of £550 can be justified, and proportionate reductions should be made in the lower partners’ rates. I also consider that the claimants’ estimates reflect an unnecessary degree of partner involvement, and a degree of overmanning that cannot be justified, as between the parties, whatever may be the position between solicitors and clients.
“I reject the claimants’ criticism of the defendant’s use of partner time. Given the nature of the issues, the tasks to be undertaken and the relatively modest rates charged by the defendant’s solicitors, the devotion of partner time is proportionate in their case.”
James Price QC, Robert Marven QC and Chloe Strong (instructed by Schillings International) for the claimants; Desmond Browne QC and Jonathan Price (instructed by Ince Gordon Dadds) for the defendant.
Picture credit: The Financial Times (used under Creative Commons Licence, cropped)