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The case of TRX v Southampton Football Club Ltd  EWHC B7 (Costs) sets out the likely approach a court will take when assessing recoverable hourly rates, including consideration of the appropriate grade of fee earner.
T had brought a claim for personal injury, arising from alleged sexual abuse for which he asserted S was vicariously liable. T instructed a specialist London firm, Bolt Burdon Kemp, and this was one of 26 similar individual claims. Proceedings were issued and S served a robust Defence before settlement was finally agreed in the sum of £4,000.
The judgment sets out the decision of Master Brown in the SCCO on the issue of recoverable hourly rates, in the context of the detailed assessment of T’s costs, which were claimed at almost £66,000. The matter was heard on 2 March 2021, but the transcript has only recently been made available.
The Master considered the factors set out in CPR 44.4(3), formerly known as the “seven pillars of wisdom”. Regard was had to S’s conduct in defending the claim and failing to resolve it earlier, as well as the relatively low financial value and the importance of the matters to all parties, including the sensitivities involved in abuse claims and the significance to T of the expression of regret achieved. The court found that although there were some issues of complexity, this was not an overly complex case.
In all the circumstances, the instruction by T (resident in a National Band 1 area) of Outer London solicitors specialising in sexual abuse cases was considered reasonable.
However, the Master held that the matter “could reasonably and adequately have been dealt with by a Grade C solicitor within such a firm”. The instruction of a Grade A or B fee earner in respect of the general day-to-day handling of the claim was unwarranted. Some “supervisory” work by a more senior fee earner and a greater involvement of a Grade A fee earner was deemed reasonable in respect of the generic costs aspect of the bill (presumably work being undertaken across the various similar claims).
As to the rates to apply, the Court took the Outer London guideline rates for summary assessment as a starting point. Regard was then had to the figures proposed in the CJC’s consultation on hourly rates that were in progress at the time of the assessment (but since implemented), plus the Master’s own experience. The Master took account of example comparator rates put in evidence by T, but declined to give much weight to them as they evidenced only the retainer rates, not allowances.
The Court found that the rates claimed were too high. That said, an enhancement of the guideline rates was deemed appropriate in all the circumstances and the Master allowed the following figures (equating to uplifts of between 4%-17% over the rates from the CJC proposals):
Grade A: Reduced from £480 per hour to £330ph
Grade B: Reduced from £365ph to £250ph
Grade C: Reduced from £350ph to £210ph
Grade D: Allowed at £135ph
Overall, the findings made on detailed assessment (particularly the decision that most of the work should have been done by the Grade C fee earner) resulted in a significant reduction of the costs claimed from £65,523 to £23,000.
This case illustrates the approach a court will often take when considering hourly rate issues (particularly claims for hourly rates in excess of the SCCO summary assessment guidelines). The matter emphasises the importance of a firm making an assessment of the 44.4(3) factors at the outset of (and indeed during) a case to ensure that appropriate decisions are taken as to e.g.
That said, this is a first instance detailed assessment and the judgment again reiterates that any findings on hourly rates will always depend on the specific facts of the case; authorities on point are generally few and far between for this reason. The case does not and cannot set a binding precedent on appropriate fee earner grade or hourly rates.
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Published 22 March 2022
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