Legal Cost Specialists

Court of Appeal Legal Costs Judgments

You wait ages for an interesting legal costs decision from the Court of Appeal and then two come along together. 

Both cases concerned a similar issue as to the extent of a costs judge’s discretion to limit costs in a manner that appears to go beyond a strict reading of the final costs order.
In Drew v Whitbread [2010] EWCA Civ 53 the claim had been allocated to the multi track on the basis of the claimant’s schedule of special damages.  At trial the matter went into a second day and the judge limited the claimant’s damages to an amount within the fast track limit.  The final order was that costs were to be assessed on the standard basis. 
The District Judge ruled on commencement of the detailed assessment that costs would be assessed as if the matter had been allocated to the fast-track.  This restricted the level of costs recoverable. 
The Court of Appeal recognised that the case raised a number of points of principle:
“Where the trial judge has in a multi-track case ordered costs to be paid on the standard basis, to what extent is a costs judge free to rule that the case was in reality a fast track case and assess trial costs on a fast track basis?  Is this a matter which a paying party has to raise before the trial judge or be precluded from raising the point thereafter?  In particular should a party obtain a ruling from the trial judge as to whether a case should have been disposed of within a day when in fact it was not?  If the costs judge is free to consider whether a case should have been allocated to the fast track, how should he or she approach assessment thereafter; can he or she simply say I am going to assess the costs of trial as if it was a fast track case or is it simply something to be taken into account when assessing the costs?”
The Claimant argued by reference to Aaron v Shelton [2004] EWHC 1162 that if a party wishes to argue that a case was, in reality, a fast-track case, and in particular that it was a case that should only have lasted a day, that must be raised with the trial judge, and if not raised with the trial judge cannot be raised with the costs judge.  
The Court of Appeal rejected that approach:
“in fulfilling their different functions, the trial judge under 44.3 and the costs judge under 44.5 are enjoined to take into account many similar factors.  That may mean that if a factor has been raised before the trial judge and the trial judge has ruled on that factor, that will bind the costs judge but (and it is important to emphasise this) more often than not the costs judge has material which the trial judge did not have, and thus will not be bound.  But the notion that if a party has not raised a matter under 44.3 he should be precluded from raising it under 44.5 does not sit easily with the express provisions. … In my view it would not be consistent with the express provisions of 44.3 and 44.5 and with the court’s duty to see that costs are proportionate and reasonable to preclude a party raising a point highly material to that question because it had not been raised before the judge under 44.3.”
It was doubtful that Aaron v Shelton (see previous post) ever represented good law but it now entirely clear it does not.  The Aaron Principle has not survived. 
The following guidance was given by the Court:
“In my view 44.3 and 44.5 are intended to work in harmony and it is intended that the parties’ conduct (for example) may have to be considered under both. If what is sought is a special order as to costs which a costs judge should follow that obviously should be sought from the trial judge. If it is clear that a costs judge would be assisted in the assessment of costs by some indication from the trial judge about the way in which a trial has been conducted, a request for that indication should be sought. But none of this needs a rule as per Henderson v Henderson that a failure to raise a point before the trial judge will preclude the raising of a point before the costs judge.
In this case the question of exaggeration was raised before the trial judge. He was expressly enjoined to take the possibility of exaggeration into account under 44.3(5)(d). That might have led to a special order for costs, e.g. that the claimant should only get 50% of his costs. But the fact that no special order has been made does not preclude the costs judge in assessing costs considering whether the conduct of a party should preclude an award of costs for some particular item. I can see no reason why the costs judge should not consider the effect of such conduct unless some specific finding of the trial judge binds him. Thus a view expressed that exaggeration was not such as to lead to a special order, ought not it seems to me to prevent a costs judge who must have regard to all the circumstances of the case, being entitled to assess what would have happened if a claimant had instructed his lawyers properly.
… in my view the costs judge was not entitled simply to rule that she was going to assess the costs of trial as if the case were on the fast track. To so rule does seem to me to rescind the Recorder’s order. I cannot accept that in ruling as she did it can be said she was simply “assessing costs on the standard basis taking into account that the case should have been allocated to the fast track” which in my view is the permissible approach. It may in some cases be a distinction without a major difference, i.e. where a case has finished within a day and the sums awarded have fallen well within the fast track limits, but that was not on the face of it this case. This case had run into a second day due at least very arguably to the fact that liability was fought hard. Simply ruling that costs of the trial should be on a fast track basis may have meant that the costs judge gave no separate consideration to the question whether it was a trial that would always have been likely to run into a second day.
I accept that, if appreciating that the case had run into a second day, she had given reasons as to why it should not have done so, and that on that basis fast track trial costs was all it was reasonable for the paying party to have to pay, she could not have been faulted.”
So Aaron is completely dead and we now have the Drew Principle which allows conduct to be taken fully into account on assessment even where it has not been raised before the judge making the final order.  Further, even where conduct has been raised before the trial judge, it can also be raised on assessment unless this would conflict with a specific finding by the trial judge.  This is a very useful decision from a defendant’s perspective but I anticipate that it may create some practical difficulties for judges on assessment who will not now be able to avoid considering issues of conduct.
The case of O’Beirne v Hudson [2010] EWCA Civ 52 concerned the question of whether, where a case has been settled before any allocation by a consent order ordering costs to be paid on the standard basis, the costs judge is entitled to take the view that the case would have been allocated to the small claims track and thus that the paying party should only pay costs on the small claims track basis.  This was a very similar issue to Drew as it concerned the extent to which a judge on assessment can go behind a strict interpretation of the costs order.
The Court of Appeal ruled:
“This was a consent order providing for costs to be assessed on the standard basis; the addition of the words reasonable to my mind adds nothing to the order that costs were to be assessed on that basis. It certainly follows from that that the costs judge was not free to rule that the costs would be assessed on the small claims track basis and if and in so far as Judge Stewart might be understood to be saying that he was in my view wrong. But, and this is the critical point, in making an assessment the Costs Judge is entitled to take account of all circumstances (see CPR 44.5(1)), including the fact that the case would almost certainly have been allocated to a small claims track if it had been allocated. In so doing she would have regard to what could or could not be recovered if the case had been so allocated.
At that stage the Costs Judge must question whether, if it could have been fought on the small track, it is reasonable that the paying party should pay the costs of a lawyer. The Costs Judge would not be bound (as I think Mr Morgan’s formulation would suggest) only to allow the costs as per a case on the small claims track but it would be a highly material circumstance in considering what by way of assessment should be payable.
I also accept that as Judge Stewart noted, a costs judge has no power to alter the order for costs made by the a judge, and thus make a direction from the outset where costs have been awarded on the standard basis that costs will be assessed on a small track basis. But what lay behind what Judge LJ said reflects what Lord Woolf was saying in Lownds and provided the Costs Judge does not purport to vary the original order or tie himself to assessing by reference to the small claims track it is quite legitimate to give effect as far as possible to the philosophy which lies behind the above statements. There is a real distinction between directing at the outset that nothing but small claims costs will be awarded and giving items on a bill very anxious scrutiny to see whether costs were necessarily or reasonably incurred, and thus whether it is reasonable for the paying party to pay more than would have been recoverable in a case that should have been allocated to the small claims track. Was it for example necessary to have had lawyers and is it reasonable for the paying party to have to pay for lawyers are questions that should arise where a claim should have been allocated to the small claims track.”
This might be thought to create something of an artificial distinction.  A judge cannot simply apply the small claims track costs regime where the costs order is for costs on the standard basis.  However, as part of the assessment process, the judge can disallow all the solicitor’s costs as being unreasonably incurred and thus limit the costs to what would have been recovered in the small claims track.  Artificial or not, this is another good decision from a defendant perspective. 
Taken together, these decisions considerably widen the scope for challenges on detailed assessment where the final costs order was not ideal and where issues of conduct had not been raised before the trial judge or incorporated into a final consent order. 

5 thoughts on “Court of Appeal Legal Costs Judgments”

  1. With respect, why is this such big news? Has no-one heard of "Thatcher -v- Subedi", another Judgement of Stewart HHJ from (from memory, I think) November 2007?
    Aaron has been long dead, and I for one am surprised anyone felt the need to trouble the Court of Appeal again with the same point.
    Almost as surprised as anyone trying to Appeal a decision of Stewart HHJ, whom famously the CoA have yet to overturn a decision of!

  2. Yes, I was of the view that Aaron was long dead but it appears that not everyone shared that view. As recently as this month I saw the decision being referred to by a Costs Lawyer as though it was still good law.

  3. Jacques Hughes

    Actually Stewart has been successfully appealed to the CA – and on a costs point. See Straker v Tudor Rose. The O'Beirne decision is wrong, and is already creating needless additional litigation. If a big, well resourced insurer says: "I will pay your legal costs" and in light of that a case is settled, the insurer has **contracted** to pay costs. How, consistently with the contract, can it then turn round and says that the claimant shouldn't have used a solicitor so that costs should be limited to £80 under CPR 27? A point which it is notable the Court of Appeal completely fails to address.

  4. Re: @ Anonymous’s comment:

    “a decision of Stewart HHJ, whom famously the CoA have yet to overturn a decision of!”

    Thatcher v Subedi was HHJ Platts not HHJ Stewart.

    HHJ Stewart was overturned (to a certain extent) by the Court of Appeal in O’Beirne. In O’Beirne Judge Stewart had found that the costs Judge would be entitled to be assessed by reference to the Small Claims Track regime (see para 12) whereas the Court of Appeal said that that approach was incorrect (see paras 19 and 22).

    An earlier poster referred to Straker -v- The Tudor Rose but there is also the decision in Coles -v- Keklik where he said that costs should be limited to Small Claims Track costs on a minor’s claim, an approach which the Court of Appeal in Dockerill has dismissed for the same reasons as O’Beirne.

    Apart from Kilby -v- Gawith, I cannot recall the Court of Appeal upholding any of his decisions. That’s not to say they haven’t I just can’t recall them doing so apart from Kilby.

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