Court grants 35% uplift on guideline rates ‘as a starting point’

A High Court judge has awarded costs 35% above the guideline hourly rates, stating that the 2010 figures are now ‘considerably below’ those being charged by solicitors even outside London.

His Honour Judge Hodge QC, sitting in Manchester in Cohen v Fine & Ors, also conceded that the recognised table of counsel’s fees ‘bears no relationship’ to the costs being charged by barristers in the business and property courts.

The judge referenced the Ohpen case in which guideline London rates were found to be lower than those charged by solicitors, and he said the same applied to many north west commercial litigation practices. Using the Bank of England inflation calculator, he said that the 35% uplift on figures for Manchester and Liverpool was justified ‘as a starting point’, and he noted that in many other more complex cases pending in the business and property courts, these increases could be even higher.

The court ultimately set aside an order from District Judge Matharu, who had heard a dispute about the sale of part of an estate. After making her ruling, the district judge ordered that the claimant’s costs, summarily assessed at £27,000, be paid from the estate. The claimant applied for costs to be remitted for detailed assessment, arguing on appeal that the original outcome was arbitrary and unjust.

Hodge J said that the approach of the district judge had been wrong, and while summary assessment could be ‘broad brush’, the court still had to consider individual elements of a bill item by item.

He added that courts should avoid the summary assessment procedure becoming ‘bedevilled by formulaic and time consumer intricacy’, but equally should avoid a ‘rushed, and procedurally improper’ summary assessment. He suggested that parties should be asked in advance if they are content for the court to adopt a ‘broad brush’ approach to costs, and if that is not agreed, then the court can order an assessment of costs on paper, re-list the matter for summary assessment, or direct that the receiving party’s costs should be subject to detailed assessment.

The claimant’s costs were summarily assessed at £35,700, with the defendant also paying the £8,300 costs of the appeal.

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