Practico Blog: Shorter bills in larger cases

Shorter bills in larger cases - Deutsche Bank AG v Sebastian Holding, Inc and Another

A frequent challenge in costs proceedings involving substantial costs claims is how to approach its disposal in a way that allows for efficient and more cost-effective resolution - the conventional method for drawing bills is long-winded and can be vastly expensive. In addition to that, no-one (especially the Court) looks fondly on the prospect of a Detailed Assessment hearing which could potentially last as long as, or even longer than, the trial in the substantive proceedings.

In cases which cannot be settled before a bill of costs is prepared, we are advocates for producing hybrid-style bills that set out our client’s costs at a higher level, enabling engagement before the need to drill down into the nitty gritty.

The courts are becoming more aware that this is a sensible approach on larger cases.

Recently in the Senior Courts Costs Office, a hearing took place before Master Gordon-Saker whereby directions were sought to agree an approach for the preparation of a hybrid-style bill to save the time and costs of drawing a conventional bill. The claim for costs was in excess of £65m and it was estimated that it would cost £2m and take two years to prepare the bill.

The Master was hesitant to make an order to prescribe the format of a bill which had not yet been prepared but acknowledged that the provisions of CPR 47 are not prescriptive, and that the model form of bill at Precedent A is just that – a model, not a prescribed form.

Without actually prescribing the exact format, he conceded that the alternative style bill - as proposed by the receiving party - was fair of capable assessment, on the basis that the content was compliant with the guidance provided by CPR 47 (and in particular para 5.12 of the PD). It remains to be seen how that will eventually look and whether it actually reduces the time and costs associated with assessing the bill.

This is certainly a step in the right direction and more such engagement by parties and the courts in this regard is welcomed.

Over time the costs rules will need to be adjusted to cater explicitly for a more flexible approach. This is something that has to happen given that the current rules and approach often leads to a prohibitively expensive and drawn out process, putting most people off from entering into it in the first place.