Journal

Virtual Roundtable with George McDonald

There’s nothing like a consultation on costs to produce a lively Virtual Roundtable discussion, and last week Andy and Jeremy were delighted to have the chance to consider the Civil Justice Council consultation on costs with a great friend of the Practico team, George McDonald of 4 New Square.

On costs budgeting, the discussion begins at [4:26] with George’s view that in its present form costs management hasn’t worked. The up-front costs far outweigh savings on detailed assessment – the process costs more than the inter partes allowances and Masters are exhausted at the end of budgeting hearings. Possible improvements are discussed:

• a tariff-based system with budgeting done on the papers

• more training for judges, and guidance on what costs would be proportionate

• keeping budgeting for defamation and other cases where the costs outweigh damages

• sharing costs information without a formal budgeting process

• enforcing the obligations on solicitors to provide estimates and costs information to their clients

• using case management more aggressively to control costs, particularly in relation to areas of work which are the prime suspects for incurring disproportionate costs eg disclosure and experts

• targeting budgeting at areas where costs are likely to be disproportionate

At [25:18] George, Jeremy and Andy move onto the next topic for review – guideline hourly rates. Everyone is a fan of them in principle, and the discussion centres on methods of updating them periodically. A couple of recent decisions on hourly rates are also covered.

There is a brief look starting at [32:30] at the next subject of the consultation, ‘digital justice system ‘, which is a well-known favourite of the Master of the Rolls. Within that, at [35:49], the conversation moves on to consider the age-old distinction between contentious and non-contentious costs. The case of Belsner v Cam, in which George is involved, and potential reform of the Solicitors Act also get a mention.

From [43:33] the session concludes by looking at the fourth area of the consultation – the consequences of extending fixed recoverable costs.

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