It has been a persistent problem for practitioners working within the Court of Protection (“COP”) that when holding an entitlement to costs, whether in respect of inter-partes work or for the ongoing work in the administration of a protected party’s estate, the assessment of the costs can be a protracted affair. All costs, so long as they’re not determined by a fixed costs regime or where it would be disproportionate to do so, have to be assessed by the Court. The Senior Courts’ Costs office undertake the assessment of COP bills, utilising Costs Officers for the bills of less than £100,000 and Costs Masters for larger bills, have become inundated with assessments with sizeable backlogs now the norm.
When there are delays in the processing of the COP bills there are direct impacts on the firm or person whose fees are being assessed. There are inherent costs associated with maintaining cases sand streams of work for longer than is necessary, not least the additional work for solicitors and administration staff involved in these cases. Also, delays in the assessment of COP bills serve to slow the realisation of a firm’s fees to the detriment of their cashflow position. This has the effect of stifling investment as well as weaken a firm’s ability to meet its own liabilities.
The failure to assess COP bills also delays the recovery of the fees paid by litigation friends which, aside being a cost and inconvenience to them, it puts significant financial pressure upon many.
The assessment of a COP bill is a three-stage process. Firstly, the bill is submitted to the SCCO who will then accept the submission and request papers. The supporting papers will be logged on receipt and then passed for assessment to either a Cost officer or a Senior Costs Officer/Costs Master. Thereafter, the assessed bills are passed to the administration team to send back to the solicitor. These stages are benchmarked for turnaround and they have not made for good reading for the Court or Practitioners alike recently.
The SCCO provided an update to practitioners in March 2022 confirming that Bills were being accepted around 6-weeks from their submission with bills being processed in around 6-months from the submission of supporting papers.
MRN has received an update from the SCCO on 27 July 2022 who confirmed that bills are being accepted in around two to three weeks of submission, a notable improvement however, the SCCO are processing bills where supporting papers were submitted around mid-November, so almost 9-months ago. It therefore remains a huge concern to practitioners and customers alike that waiting times are increasing and, whilst the SCCO have stated they have put measures in place to reduce the backlogs, this does not appear to be bearing fruit yet.
MRN cannot influence the delays caused by the backlogs at the SCCO, it is though now more imperative than ever that your case is presented in a way to avoid any need for enquiry by the assessing Costs Officer. As experienced legal costs experts MRN can navigate you through the process of preparing your bill, its submission, the precise bundling of the supporting papers and assessing the outcome in a way to best mitigate against the inevitable delay. It is vital now to have the right expertise to navigate this ever-lengthening process as quickly and efficiently as possible.