A High Court judge has called for a cap on costs after a divorcing couple racked up a bill of almost £1m contesting assets.
Mr Justice Mostyn (pictured) described as ‘madness’ a case where lawyers and experts were paid a total of £920,000 during a dispute over assets worth around £2.9m.
By the time of a financial dispute resolution meeting in April 2014, the parties had already spent £226,000 on costs.
This was largely due to a deputy district judge deciding in November 2012 to allow each party to appoint their own expert to value the husband’s business interests: in the event forensic accountants filed six expert reports and a joint statement, charging £154,000 in fees.
In the eight months since April, a further £700,000 was spent on costs – a figure Mostyn described as ‘staggering’.
The result, he added, has been to make a case that was ‘surely so easily settleable almost impossible to compromise’, and to impose on the High Court a seven-day trial. Of 18 pages of final submissions from one party, nine were devoted to costs.
‘The time has come when the law-makers in this country, whether they are legislators or judges, must stop saying something must be done and actually do something,’ said Mostyn.
He said new rules must come into force to impose a costs cap on fees charged by lawyers and set fixed fees for each stage of litigation.
The judge added: ‘In my opinion only if these two steps are taken will the grotesque leeching of costs, such as has occurred in this case, be arrested.’
Mostyn also noted that tougher rules may see more people opt to employ a lawyer rather than be self-represented as they seek expert advice on how much their case will cost.
He intends to bring this judgment to the attention of the president of the Family Division with a view to him raising this pressing matter ‘as a matter of urgency’ with the Family Procedure Rules Committee.
In the event, Mostyn ordered that the wife receive £1,123,500 of the assets and the husband £841,500. Lawyers and experts received £920,000 in total – almost 32% of the assets.
The two parties were represented by DWF LLP and Merrick Solicitors. David Pickering, DWF’s national head of family law, said: 'We are delighted to have secured a positive and fair result for our client in what was for a number of reasons a very difficult case which took two and half years including a six day trial to ensure a just outcome for her and the children.
'Regrettably the costs are unusually high and the husband in the case was ordered by the judge to make a contribution towards the wife’s costs from his share of the family assets. We have a first rate family team which has been independently recognised for its excellent service and results and the feedback from our client endorses this; she recognises the huge amount of work we needed to undertake to ensure she received a fair and just settlement.'