A judge has slashed a costs budget by almost £400,000 after labelling the original estimate as ‘grossly excessive’.

Mr Justice Stuart-Smith (pictured) described the £824,000 figure claimed by Manchester firm JMW Solicitors as an ‘exorbitant estimate’. The claim itself, for unpaid building works carried out at QPR Football Club’s Loftus Road ground, was for £801,675.

Sitting in the technology and construction division of the High Court, Stuart-Smith reduced the incurred and approved costs budget to a total of £425,000.

The judge said it was an ‘exceptional case’ which required claims forms to be analysed with a ‘fine tooth-comb’ .

He added: ‘The aggregate sum being put forward for approval is so disproportionate to the sums at stake or the length and complexity of the case that something has clearly gone wrong.

‘The court’s interest in maintaining a robust and just approach to costs management requires an investigation.’

In coming to the final budget, Stuart-Smith reduced claimant costs on some items by as much as 70%.

He approved £13,500 of pre-action costs compared with the estimate of more than £43,000.

Issue costs were reduced from £266,908 to £115,000, ADR and mediation costs were reduced from £84,650 to £25,000. Only the £29,522 claimed for disclosure remained intact in the sum approved.

The claim included 52 hours of partner time and 138 hours of associate time, coming to around five and a half weeks of solid work on the case. The judge noted there was ‘no justification’ apparent for these hours, and said around 10 hours’ partner time and 30 hours of associate time appeared to be reasonable and proportionate.

Abdul Jinadu, counsel for the claimant GSK Project Management Limited, said the defence’s estimate of £350,000 was understating the resources that were necessary, although the judge noted this submission was made ‘rather faintly in the end’.

Stuart-Smith added: ‘It is hard to imagine anything more sterile than arguing about a grossly excessive costs estimate. It does not go to the issues, it is wasteful of court and the parties’ time, and it offends against the obligation to keep costs to the reasonable minimum.

‘This costs estimate was grossly excessive, being overstated by almost 100% in relative terms and nearly £400,000 in absolute terms. It justified the effort and expense of the detailed attack made on it by the Defendant.’

The claimant was ordered to pay the defendant’s £1,000 costs for contesting the issue.

In a statement, Joy Kingsley, senior partner at JMW Solicitors LLP, said: ‘Our task was to put before the court the costs that were necessary to pursue the claim.

‘Our figures reflected the time and effort involved in what has already been a long-standing dispute which began in 2008. The court has wide discretion in terms of assessing any cost budget submitted.

‘Mr Justice Stuart-Smith has chosen to exercise that discretion and we accept his decision.’