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Senior judges mull guideline hourly rate review

Kirby: Ohpen a useful ruling to carry around

A group of senior judges at the helm of the civil courts are considering a review of the guideline hourly rates (GHR) “as a matter of urgency”, it has emerged.

There is growing pressure to revise the rates – which have been in place since 2010 – in the wake of comments by Mrs Justice O’Farrell [1] last year in Ohpen that there were unsatisfactory, not helpful and out-of-date.

The Association of Costs Lawyers called for a review [2] following her ruling and also a poll of its members, who said a review was needed urgently, as the GHR were doing more harm than good.

Speaking at December’s meeting of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee, whose minutes have just been published, chair Lord Justice Coulson explained that the civil executive team was “actively considering this matter as a matter of urgency, with a short report to follow”.

The team was set up in 2016 to support the Master of the Rolls in overseeing civil justice and implementing court modernisation.

The next step would be to decide whether this was something for the CPRC to consider, “possibly with outside advice/assistance”, or whether it was more appropriate for the Civil Justice Council to look at it. This would be a decision for the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton.

In a recent podcast from London chambers Hardwicke, well-known costs counsel Robin Dunne said the continued existence of rates set in 2010 was becoming “intolerable” for both claimant and defendant representatives alike.

He suggested that, if they remain unchanged, “solicitors will have to end up preparing expense of time calculations for assessments because judges have to start somewhere”.

Also in the podcast, PJ Kirby QC described Ohpen as “a good decision to carry around with you if you are the receiving party” and predicted there would be “further consideration and criticism” of the GHR in the coming year.

Mr Dunne said the “trouble” with the concept of market rates was whether the judge has knowledge of them and whether they would be challenged.

Ultimately, he said the GHR would only be sorted out by the solicitors’ profession “as a whole” providing evidence on the cost of litigation – which it failed to do when the GHR were last reviewed in 2014/5 – or “individual firms coming to the court armed with the figures which justify the cost doing the work and how much the cost has gone up since 2010”.