While implementation of the radical costs reforms recommended by Lord Justice Jackson and comprised in the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill are still being debated in Parliament and proposed implementation has been deferred until April 2013. Lord Justice Jackson is preparing to bring in a new reform which would see the introduction of provisional costs assessments. This follows the success of a pilot scheme at Leeds County Court.
Under the pilot scheme successful parties with base costs (i.e before any conditional fee uplift for success) that were no greater than £25,000 were provisionally assessed on paper by a District Judge. It was then open to the parties to challenge the provisional assessment by requesting a full oral hearing, but the party seeking such challenge was required to pay the costs of the hearing if it failed to achieve an improvement on its position in the provisional assessment by at least 20%. Apparently out of 100 cases dealt with at Leeds County Court leading to provisional assessment, there were 17 requests for an oral hearing of which only 2 proceeded to a full hearing and in both those cases the challenging party failed to achieve an improvement of 20% and accordingly had to pay the costs of both parties incurred in connection with the hearing.
Lawyers are already used to costs being summarily assessed at trials of smaller cases and at interim hearings, and this new development will be an extension of the summary assessment principle. Parties will have to be prepared to accept the rough and ready nature of provisional assessment in the majority of cases, because even a successful challenge at an oral hearing could to leave the challenging party worse off than under the provisional assessment.
For more information about the issues raised in this article or to find out more about how the Dispute Resolution team can help you please contact Mike Robinson on 0118 952 7206 or email [email protected].
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