ARGUING ABOUT COSTS – WHEN YOURS ARE BIGGER THAN THEIRS

In  HXA & Anor v Surrey County Council [2021] EWHC 250 (QB) Deputy Master Bagot QC struck out part of the claimant’s claim for damages against the defendant local authority.  This blog, however, is interested in the question of costs.

 

THE CLAIM

The Deputy Master struck out a large part of the claimant’s claim for damages against the second defendant.   The Master then had to consider the quantification of costs.

THE JUDGMENT ON COSTS

The Deputy Master did not accept the claimant’s contention that the defendant’s costs (which were some 40% lower than the costs of the claimant’s costs of the application) were too high.
    1. The parties agree that costs should follow the event and the First Claimant should pay the Defendant’s costs of the application, subject to the restrictions on enforcement arising from CPR 44 Section II (QOCS). I am asked summarily to assess those costs. I bear in mind all the circumstances but in particular the factors in CPR 44.4 in assessing the amount of costs. There are no relevant conduct issues. I do not have any detailed information on the value of the claim as this application was concerned with liability. It is not a catastrophic injury claim but it is a potentially significant multi track value claim which is of importance to both parties, particularly the First Claimant. There was a considerable amount riding on this application for both parties. Abuse claims raise issues of sensitivity and complexity requiring specialist skill and knowledge from the legal representatives and that was on display on both sides of this application. Time and effort had clearly been spent.
    1. The First Claimant submits that the £10,934.50 (no VAT is claimed) sought by the Defendant is too high because this was a short application based on limited material and involved legal submissions in an area with which the Defendant’s Counsel was already very familiar. In its brief written observations on costs, the Defendant, more accurately in my view, characterises this as a heavy application which required a good deal of preparation.
    1. I consider that the only reason why the application was heard comfortably within the four hour time estimate was that both parties’ Counsel had prepared helpful written submissions and addressed me orally with the economy and focus which only comes from assiduous preparation and mastery of the not inconsiderable volume of written material and authorities.
    1. With those factors and submissions in mind, whether stepping back and looking at the total sum sought in the Defendant’s costs schedule, or scrutinising the component parts, I am unable to identify any aspects which appear disproportionately or unreasonably incurred or disproportionate or unreasonable in amount.
    1. Comparisons between the sums claimed by each party usually need to be treated with caution, given the often different hourly rates, as here, and the different demands on those bringing and defending claims or making and responding to applications. But a cross-check against the c.40% higher sum of £15,443.33 (before VAT, so as to compare like-with-like) claimed in the First Claimant’s costs schedule is a factor tending to confirm my above conclusion.
  1. I therefore summarily assess the Defendant’s costs of the application in the sum claimed of £10,934.50.