The judge in charge of the media list has reduced the hourly rate recoverable by the lawyers for Sir Philip Green in his case against the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Justice Warby capped the top partner rate at £550 an hour, after a figure of up to £690 was claimed.
Sir Philip and two of his companies are seeking an injunction to restrain the Telegraph Media Group from publishing information about them.
Initially the Telegraph reported how it had been stopped from identifying them in a story about alleged misconduct which had been the subject of non-disclosure agreements.
Labour peer Lord Hain then named Sir Philip using parliamentary privilege, but the underlying details remain protected by the interim injunction.
The claimants argue that the defendant received confidential information in the knowledge that the disclosure was made in breach of duties of confidence owed to the claimants.
Warby J’s ruling yesterday concerned a series of pre-trial matters, including an unsuccessful effort to force the newspaper to name the source of the information and costs budgeting.
On the latter, the judge said it was “unfortunate” that budgeting had only been possible two weeks before trial, but acknowledged this was “commonplace when a case begins with an urgent application for an interim injunction, and an order is made for a speedy trial”.
This meant in practice that a large proportion of the costs of the action had already been incurred. Parts of the costs of disclosure and witness statements remained to be spent, but the judge said he had no figures for the split and had to treat them as already incurred.
As a result, he was only able to conduct an approval exercise in relation to the costs of the pre-trial review, trial preparation and trial phases. London firm Schillings is acting for the claimants, Ince Gordon Dadds for the defendant.
The judge nonetheless took the opportunity to comment on the incurred costs, saying it was “fair to note” that some on the claimant’s side were “very high, and much higher than those incurred by the defendants”.
He highlighted £472,757 for witness statements, roughly five times the defendant’s figure of £80,942 but said a lack of time meant he could not go further and “engage in any detailed examination of the reasons for such disparities or the justification for the claimants’ figures”.
Warby J allowed £541,059 for the claimants for the budgeted phases and £495,477 for the defendants.
He added: “In cases like this, proportionality cannot be assessed by reference to any damages claim, or any other financial yardstick.
“Although budgeting is not the same as detailed assessment, it is almost inescapable for the court to give some thought to the hours and hourly rates that are justified for the work in question.”
The hourly rates claimed by the claimants ranged from £190 for a trainee to £690 for a partner, with other partners’ rates between £510 and £635 per hour. The guideline rates are £126 for grade D to £409 for grade A.
Warby J continued that both he and the defendant – whose solicitors were claiming up to £450 per hour – accepted that fees above the guideline rates were justified.
“But not to the extent of the differences here. I do not consider that hourly rates in excess of £550 can be justified, and proportionate reductions should be made in the lower partners’ rates.
“I also consider that the claimants’ estimates reflect an unnecessary degree of partner involvement, and a degree of overmanning that cannot be justified, as between the parties, whatever may be the position between solicitors and clients.
“I reject the claimants’ criticism of the defendant’s use of partner time. Given the nature of the issues, the tasks to be undertaken, and the relatively modest rates charged by the defendant’s solicitors, the devotion of partner time is proportionate in their case.”