It is not often I find myself in agreement with the master of the rolls. All the more surprising then after his judgment in Denton to find me and many others agreeing with Lord Dyson for the second time in the space of a month, over his decision on guideline hourly rates.
The industry had been waiting with bated breath for the outcome of the Civil Justice Council’s deliberations, which was to recommend a ‘slash and burn’ of rates for the majority of fee-earners in most areas of the country.
However, the dearth of evidence upon which to base its conclusions – the CJC’s own survey elicited only 148 responses – led the CJC to hedge its recommendations with numerous caveats, which in turn caused the master of the rolls to refuse to accept the proposed rate changes, other than expanding the definition of a grade A fee-earner to include fellows of CILEx with eight years’ PQE and permitting costs lawyers to recover grade C or even grade B rates dependent on the complexity of the work, although this had already been established in Motto v Trafigura.
In his response to the CJC’s recommendations, Lord Dyson emphasised a fact often lost on judges and practitioners alike – the guideline rates are merely guidelines and not a straitjacket.
Furthermore, in my opinion at least, the fixation on hourly rates is counterproductive in that it stifles the wider discussion about the pricing of legal services, which needs to be had in a political climate where perfection is demanded from practitioners who at the same time are expected to act for ever-decreasing returns on their labour.
Rob Parness, costs lawyer, Burcher Jennings, London