Lord Justice Jackson has revealed detailed plans which would impose a “grid of fixed costs” on all civil claims worth up to £250,000.
Describing the current system as “exorbitantly expensive”, Jackson LJ said the profession was now “more willing” to accept fixed costs, partly because it would “dispense with the need for costs budgeting, which not everyone enjoys”.
Delivering the IPA annual lecture, he called on the government to take a decision on whether to have fixed costs for the lower reaches of the multi-track, as he recommended, or for all cases.
Jackson LJ said that if the government did not “wish to pursue this reform as a priority”, it should “suggest that a senior judge who doesn’t mind being pilloried (preferably not me again)” actually draws up the scheme.
“That judge would consult widely. She/he would be aided by assessors, but not bound by any of their (inevitably conflicting) views. The assessors should include practitioners, court users and an economist.
“Obviously the judge’s recommendations would then fall to be considered by the government and the rule committee, in the usual way.”
Jackson LJ said that “if the political will is there, this whole project could be accomplished during the course of this year”.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, recently reiterated the senior judiciary’s call for the extension of fixed costs across the fast-track and the ‘lower end’ of the multi-track, and in response to a question on this in Parliament this week, justice minister Lord Faulks said: “The government remains supportive of the principle of extending fixed recoverable costs and we continue to consider areas in which implementation might be appropriate and workable.”
Jackson LJ’s grid would set fixed costs for solicitors’ and barristers’ fees, excluding disbursements, enforcement fees and VAT.
It would divide the course of a case into 10 stages, following the 10 stages in precedent H, and dispense with the need for costs management.
Under the grid, the band for the case would be determined by the sum or value of the property recovered where the claimant won. Where the defendant won, it would be determined by the “sum or the value of property claimed”.
In the first band, cases worth between £25,000 and £50,000, Jackson LJ’s suggested fixed amount for lawyers’ fees was £18,750.
For cases worth between £50,000 and £100,000, the amount was £30,000, for cases worth between £100,000 and £175,000, it was £47,500. Under the top band in the grid, cases worth between £175,000 and £250,000, the figure was £70,250.
Jackson LJ said the government should also move to a fixed costs regime for all non-personal injury fast-track cases, as he had previously recommended.
“In future years many of the current fast-track cases may proceed in the Online Court (proposed by Briggs LJ in his recent report) and be subject to a completely different regime.”
Jackson LJ said he believed that moving immediately to a fixed cost for all civil cases would be “too great a change for the profession to accept”, at least in the short-term, but once his new regime was in place, “people can see how it works and consider whether to introduce a universal fixed costs regime”.
He added that next week he would set out the case for a contingent legal aid fund.