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In the case of Axnoller Events Ltd v Brake & Anor (Summary Assessment), on 23 August 2021 the court ordered that Brakes should pay 50% of the costs of Axnoller Events Ltd and The Cheddington Court Estate’s (collectively known as “the Guy Parties”) application notice of 26 June 2021, to be assessed on a standard basis.
Brakes challenged the charging rates for the solicitors, referring to the Senior Courts Costs Office guideline hourly rates 2010. Whereas the “Guy Parties” referred to the proposed CJC 2021 increased guideline hourly rates instead, despite them not coming into force until 1 October 2021.
In support of the claim for increased hourly rates, the “Guy Parties” submitted that the claim was both legally and factually complex enough to justify the instruction of London solicitors, and therefore the new band for heavy commercial London cases should apply. They added that it was a very document heavy application that warranted the instruction of both leading and junior counsel.
Brakes, in support of their objection to the hourly rate claimed, sought to compare the total costs of the application with the approved budgeted amount for the 3 day trial, as the amounts were not too dissimilar. The “Guy Parties” argued that this comparison was irrelevant.
HHJ Matthews accepted that the “litigation as a whole between the parties is peculiarly wide ranging, factually complex and, at least in part, legally difficult”, and considered “that the retainer of the London solicitors was reasonable. The property the subject of the Possession Claim is worth several million pounds, and the Guy Parties have been kept out of possession for the best part of three years. The facts of the case are complex, and parts at least of the claim are legally complex”.
The rates claimed by the “Guy Parties” were £695 for grade A, £525 and £445 for grade B, £370 and £325 for grade C and £210 for grade D fee earners. HHJ Matthews accepted that the 2010 summary assessment guidelines were now well out of date and appreciated that the new 2021 guideline rates were not strictly in force. However, because the rates had already been used in the High Court in the case of The ECU Group plc v Deutsche Bank  EWHC 2083 (Ch),  he decided to give consideration to the new guidelines instead.
HHJ Matthews concluded that the rates claimed were “well over the top, even for London firms”, and he refused to accept that anything over and above those rates could be deemed reasonable. He further disagreed that there was any merit in comparing the trial phase of the approved budget with the application and dismissed this argument. Consequently, the assessment of the costs claimed were based on the CJC 2021 guideline hourly rates.
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Published 1 September 2021
Author – Sue Fox
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