Hourly Rates on Detailed Assessment

Hourly rate based questions are common in our area of work. Questions such as what is a reasonable hourly rate? How does the Court reach that conclusion? Should I be limited to Guideline Hourly Rates?

The recent case of Various Claimants v News Group Newspapers Limited [2023] EWHC 827 (SCCO) shed some light in this regard, as Costs Judge Rowley commented on the use of Guideline Hourly Rates (GHR) in a Detailed Assessment.

The case formed part of the “phone hacking” litigation, and when considering the hourly rates, both parties addressed the Court with regards to CPR 44.4(3) and the seven pillars of wisdom (the recently added eighth relates to budgeting which did not apply here).  The parties also discussed the location of where the work was carried out, the number of fee earners (39 according to the Points of Dispute), and the rates when compared to the 2021 GHRs for London 2 and also for those allowed by Vos J as the managing judge in Tranche 2.  The Grade D rate was agreed by the Defendant at £160/hr.

When deciding on the rates to be awarded, Costs Judge Rowley considered the points raised, and he considered that the GHR may be a useful starting point in a detailed, as well as summary, assessment.  However, Costs Judge Rowley went on to say that “the GHR are provided predominantly to assist judges who do not specialise in costs cases to deal with a summary assessment of costs when faced with the successful party’s summary assessment schedule and competing arguments from the advocates”.

Further comments were made:

the relevance of the GHR being a starting point in detailed assessments is no more than a reflection of the scarcity of any other starting point” and importantly “…a starting point by its very name does not suggest it is the finishing point…”

 The result was that some Grade A fee earners were awarded rates of £490/hr and others £460/hr, B was awarded at £350/hr and Grade C £275/hr.

This case goes to show that GHR play a role in detailed assessment, but it is almost by default as there is a scarcity of other potential starting points.  It is important to recognise that they are also a guide and there to assist judges conducting summary assessments, who do not specialise in costs.  Receiving Parties will also be keen to read from this that they are not the finishing point in terms of what rates could be allowed, and that is particularly so when the parties can address in detail the factors contained in CPR 44.4.

Should you wish to discuss this, or any other legal costs matters, please do not hesitate to contact the writer Tom Brocklebank here.

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