Fixed costs regime should be limited to fast-track cases, experts say

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Dec 12, 2017
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Lord Justice Jackson has argued for a wider programme of fixed costs

Paul Rogers for The Times

Use of fixed recoverable costs in civil claims should only be expanded to fast-track cases, specialist lawyers argued yesterday.

More than half of costs lawyers told researchers that it was “fair enough” to extend fixed costs across the fast-track, but that they should go no further.

Lord Justice Jackson, the Court of Appeal judge tasked with drafting reforms to the system, has argued for a wider programme of fixed costs.

The lawyers claimed that Lord Justice Jackson’s own reckoning suggested that cost budgeting by lawyer had improved significantly over the past 18 months. That improvement, they argued, rendered a fixed costs regime unnecessary beyond lower value fast-track cases.

Some 57 per cent of the cost lawyers surveyed agreed that cost budgeting processes had improved. However, they also argued that there remained scope for improvement.

According to the survey, only 5 per cent of costs lawyers said their clients always stuck to their budgets, while 65 said they sometimes went over and nearly 30 per cent said their solicitor-clients always exceeded their budgets.

The survey found growing awareness among solicitors that the new electronic format of the bill of costs becomes compulsory next April, but 40 per cent of costs lawyers said that law firms were reluctant to modernise their systems.

“Do we really need the upheaval and satellite litigation that fixed costs would cause as lawyers push for the highest fee available?” asked Iain Stark, chairman of the Association of Cost Lawyers, which conducted the survey.

He said that solicitors “work on the fast-track because [they] can cope with the swings and roundabouts of having some cases that require more work and others that require less than the fixed cost allows. However, that calculation does not work with more complex cases”.

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