HI v Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust
Sheffield County Court
25 February 2019
The issues were, first whether the court has the power to make an interim order as to costs in the circumstances of this case and secondly, if the court does have such a power, whether the court should exercise that power.
The claimant suffered catastrophic injuries during his birth in October 2007. In December 2012, Griffiths-Williams J approved a liability settlement giving judgment to the claimant for 90% of the value of the claim and making the following order for costs:
“The defendant shall pay the claimant’s reasonable costs to date, to be subject to detailed assessment in default of agreement and such costs to be paid within 28 days of the agreement or assessment.”
He also ordered the defendant to make an interim payment on account of costs of £100,000.
The claimant was 5 years old when the order was made, and it was apparent that it would be some time before the value of the claim could be quantified. The parties subsequently agreed that the assessment of quantum was unlikely to be achieved until 2022.
A telephone hearing listed in September 2017 was due to hear an application for an interim payment of £200,000 on account of damages and an application for an interim payment of £150,000 on account of costs. Before the hearing, the application for the damages interim payment was agreed subject to the court's approval, but the application for the costs interim payment went ahead.
District Judge Batchelor was made aware that in addition to the £100,000 costs interim payment ordered in December 2012, the defendant had made a further voluntary payment of £115,000, making a total of £215,000. The costs incurred by the claimant to date were said to be around £700,000, of which £500,000 had been incurred since the 2012 order was made. Also since that date, the solicitor with conduct of the claim on behalf of the claimant had moved firms, taking the case with her.
The defendant's argument was that there is no provision under either the Civil Procedure Rules or case law, entitling the claimant to what effectively are quantum costs before the issue of quantum has been resolved, and before there is any order of the court.
The claimant argued that in a case where it was agreed that quantum could not be assessed until 2022, it cannot be right that the claimant, if a private paying client, or otherwise the claimant’s solicitors should have to foot the costs of his own legal advice and experts for that entire period where the defendant has admitted liability.
The claimant further submitted that the order in respect of liability costs entitled the claimant to costs down to January 2013 (when the order was sealed), whilst the further costs incurred since then totalled a further £500,000. The claimant was effectively arguing that this satisfied the “dreadfully out of pocket” test.
District Judge Batchelor did not disagree with the claimant's submissions but was more concerned that there was provision for the detailed assessment of the liability costs and that those costs should have been assessed before this application. On that basis, the judge refused the claimant's application and also refused permission to appeal saying:
His Honour Judge Robinson heard the appeal after granting the claimant permission to appeal. He acknowledged that he had the benefit of hearing more comprehensive argument on the issues than DJ Batchelor given the limited time afforded by a telephone hearing.
He then set out the relevant provisions under CPR r.44.2 on the court's discretion as to costs and highlighted three relevant factual issues:
1. The claimant had received interim payments on account of damages totalling £1.2 million.
2. It was a near certainty that the claimant would receive a great deal more money than that at trial or earlier settlement;
3. There was, as yet, no defendant’s part 36 offer.
On appeal the claimant submitted that, where a court makes an order for costs in favour of the receiving party, it is not necessary for the court also to order a detailed assessment of those costs before it can order a payment on account of those costs.
The defendant maintained that "absent a relevant order for costs, there is no power to make an interim payment on account of such costs, and that a court should not make such an order for costs in respect of an aspect of a trial, in this case quantum, which has yet to be determined."
The judge accepted the claimant's submissions, making the following findings:
• On his reading of CPR r.47.1, even if an assessment is not ordered immediately, the court can still order a payment on account of costs, so an order for detailed assessment is not a pre-requisite of the making of an order for a payment on account of costs.
• However, that does not address the issue whether there is the power to make an order for payment of costs to date in respect of an issue which is still proceeding. On that question, HHJ Robinson was not persuaded that the cases cited by the defendant, where the courts had refused to make pre-emptive costs orders, were similar to the situation in question. Whereas there were more similarities with the case, cited by the claimant, of Giambrone v JMC Holidays Ltd (unreported Dec 2002) concerning holiday sickness group litigation. In that case, Moreland J recognised that even though "there should be no need for any detailed assessment of costs until the conclusion of the group litigation… Solicitors for claimants are fully entitled to an adequate cash flow from the defendants once the general issue of liability has been admitted or determined in the claimants' favour…" Whilst Moreland J hoped defendants' solicitors would make voluntary interim payments, if no agreement could be reached, he envisaged that the appropriate order could be made by the trial judge quickly and cheaply using powers under the CPR at that time.
• On this issue, the three factual issues cited above were relevant.
• The judge at first instance had also not fully appreciated the point that the claimant's current firm of solicitors (i.e. the fee earner's new firm) had not benefited from the December 2012 order. Because she had not therefore given any weight to this factor, the exercise of her discretion was flawed.
• She was also wrong to determine that a total interim payment of £200,000 on account of costs might exceed a reasonable proportion of the costs to which the claimant's solicitors would be entitled.
Exercising his discretion afresh, HHJ Robinson found the following factors to be of importance:
• The defendant's contesting of three (damages) interim payment applications were relevant to the question of conduct under CPR r.44.2(5);
• The claimant's obtaining of damages interim payments totalling £1.2 million constituted a partial success within CPR r.44.2(4)(b);
Again acknowledging the inherent difficulties of the original telephone hearing, HHJ Robinson found that the district judge had fallen into error. He therefore allowed the appeal and indicated he was inclined to order a further payment on account of £150,000.
The defendant sought permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal but this was refused by Irwin LJ who gave brief reasons for the refusal:
• The jurisdictional argument (i.e. whether the court has the power to make such an order) must fail. The "general rule" in CPR r.44.2(2)(a) has to be interpreted as meaning that in a suitable case a judge may award costs to an unsuccessful party. In any event the terms "unsuccessful" or "successful" cannot be defined to binary outcomes of the whole case. "Here the term may readily be refined to mean "will succeed sufficiently to justify the further costs sought"."
• Turning to whether this was a proper case for an order such as this, Irwin LJ said it clearly was, for the reasons formulated by the judge taking into consideration the highlighted factual issues: "It must be right that in such a case a key consideration is to preserve security for a defendant, so that there is no appreciable risk of a need to repay costs paid on an interim basis. Subject to that principle, it seems entirely proper to me to order interim costs payments with a view to the cash flow of solicitors in very long-lasting litigation, where very significant liability has been conceded. That must particularly be so in the case of specialist solicitors who may be facing such problems in a range of cases."
Whilst this is not a formal judgment of the Court of Appeal, these comments appear to support the contention that the court does have discretion to make orders for payments on account of the costs of undetermined issues where success is likely. Permission to appeal decisions cannot usually be cited in court but we can see parties adopting the points made by Lord Justice Irwin in argument.
Of course, each case must be treated differently, for example if a strong Part 36 offer has been made then that is likely to be material and may dissuade a court from ordering an interim payment on costs. Likewise, if there are issues of credibility or exaggeration, these may dissuade the court from making such an award.
However, it may be that judges will be willing to grant interim payments following the above decisions and careful consideration will need to be given to every request.
One can agree with the court ordering a payment on account of liability costs once a costs order has been in relation to liability. However, to extend this to costs on matters yet to be determined was not the intention of the rules. Indeed, it could be argued, if the judgment is taken to its logical conclusion, that obtaining a costs order on an interlocutory application would provide the court authority to order payments on account in relation to liability and/or quantum. It was surely the intention of the rules that an order for payment on account related to the specific costs order being made.
Indeed in a recent case conducted by DWF where an application was made for a payment on account of quantum costs following liability being concluded, and where this case was specifically considered, the Masters in the High Court indicated that was not a case which would find traction there, and it was a rogue decision. This is something which is likely to continue to rear its head and an argument we anticipate will rumble on.
Should you wish to discuss these issues then please contact Steven Dawson on 0113 261 6118 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org or William MacKenzie on 020 7645 9507 or by email email@example.com