Rattan v Carter-Ruck
There has been a significant increase in legal commentary on Solicitor own Client costs and the challenges being advanced by both Solicitors and lay Clients alike recently.
In the case of Rattan v Carter-Ruck, Master Leonard dealt with two Applications and his decisions will be of interest to Solicitors, in particular those who are seeing challenges to their costs.
The Claimant applied for assessment of two Bills delivered in December 2011. The Solicitors applied to strike out the Claimant’s application and the Claimant applied for an extension of time to request a detailed assessment hearing under CPR 46.10.
Master Leonard decided to deal with the application for extension of time first, noting the Claimant had delayed making the application for a detailed assessment for over three years, and eventually finding his bid for an extension of time should be refused.
Master Leonard applied the provisions in respect of relief from sanctions, found in CPR 3.9, concluding there was no good reason for the delay, even taking into account the arguments advanced by the Claimant that he had had difficult family issues and that his status as a litigant in person should be accepted as a good reason for the delay.
The Master considered the merits of the Claimant’s case and highlighted that the Claimant was seeking assessment of sums that had already been authorised by the Claimant in an agreed arrangement, from which he benefited as the Solicitors had charged significantly less than they were entitled to. There had been no suggestion that the Claimant had been forced into approving the said arrangements and indeed the Defendant had highlighted that they would continue to act if their advice on settlement was not accepted and taken by the Claimant.
A separate set of Part 7 proceedings had been issued by the Claimant and the Claimant had apparently been advised that, in order to make a claim in negligence or breach of contract, he first needed to have the Defendant’s costs assessed in respect of the extent to which that negligence may have affected the costs to be charged.
Master Leonard disagreed with that approach, firstly finding that the Claimant should have brought the detailed assessment proceedings to a conclusion years ago and, secondly, noting that the issues arising in the Part 7 claim could be addressed by the Court without the parties duplicating two sets of proceedings; particularly as the detailed assessment proceedings were likely to end with the Court certifying the Defendant’s costs be assessed at a figure already agreed by the Claimant, therefore the Court would not undertake a hypothetical analysis of what the Defendant might have been able to charge above the agreed amount.
Clearly this is a stark reminder of the Court’s powers for anyone who is wanting to challenge a Bill. Master Leonard specifically advised: ‘Requesting a detailed assessment hearing requires only the completion of a form, the filing of some papers and the payment of a fee,’ ‘On the evidence the Claimant could have done that at any time, just as he could have instructed Solicitors if he needed to. He did not act until he was effectively forced to do so.’
So, what can we take from this case?
- Being a litigant in person is not good reason for the rules and practice direction not to be complied with.
- The Court’s powers are wide and far reaching in respect of costs and any late application for assessment of a Solicitor’s Costs will be considered with reference to the test for relief from sanctions. There is a clear requirement of evidence needing to be provided to the Court to be persuaded to make an award or decision that is within their discretion. They simply will not do so without good reason and evidence being provided by parties.
- Where amounts are agreed between Claimant and Solicitor it is unlikely that the Court will then go behind this agreement unless there are significant reasons as to why the Claimant feels that they were under undue influence or other external factors that had an impact.
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