Parties praised after first trial in capped costs pilot

Towneley Hall: Defendant won

The first case under the capped costs pilot reached trial last week, with the judge commending the parties for their “significant degree of collaboration” to make it work.

The opt-in pilot began on 14 January 2019 and is available for all cases in London, Manchester and Leeds worth up to £250,000 where the trial is expected to require no more than two days. Costs are capped at £80,000.

The dispute in Faiz v Burnley Borough Council [2020] EWHC 407 (Ch), was whether the defendant council lease had successful forfeited the lease on a café at Towneley Hall, a historic country house in Lancashire.

The case entered the capped costs list at the suggestion of the His Honour Judge Halliwell, sitting in Manchester as a High Court judge, and, in line with the practice direction, the parties agreed to rely only on the seven core documents contained in their bundles with no other directions for disclosure.

A deadline was provided for the exchange of witness statements but there were no directions for expert evidence and no provision for cost budgeting.

Although the pilot provides for the parties to be limited to no more than two witnesses, the parties agreed that the council should be able to call three, which the judge considered appropriate in the circumstances, especially as they could “comfortably” be accommodated within the two-day trial.

HHJ Halliwell recorded: “A trial bundle was filed at court amounting to 568 pages. Skeleton arguments were delivered in accordance with the Chancery Guide and the parties jointly prepared a trial timetable.

“At all stages, there was a significant degree of collaboration to ensure that the case was ready by the agreed trial date. For this, the parties are to be commended.”

The judge found for the defendant.

Last year, Mr Justice Birss – a member of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee – said lawyers were wrong to fear capped costs, which could make a “big difference” to the ability of medium-sized companies to litigate.

He said that, if the pilot proved a success, he would be “in the forefront” of those calling for it to be extended.

The Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Geoffrey Vos, has also called on litigators to take part in the pilot, which he said showed how complex disputes could be simplified.

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