The government is set to look ‘carefully’ at proposals from Lord Justice Jackson for fixed fees in all civil cases valued at up to £250,000, the Gazette has learned.
Jackson, whose report formed the basis for far-reaching costs reforms in 2013, said last month the time has come to set recoverable costs in all types of civil claim. The judge has urged ministers to make reform an immediate priority, with a view to setting fixed recoverable costs by the end of this year.
On the same day as Jackson’s speech, justice minister Lord Faulks responded to a written question in parliament, noting that the Ministry of Justice is already considering areas in which fixed costs might be ‘appropriate and workable’.
An MoJ spokeswoman added: ‘This government remains supportive of the principle of extending fixed recoverable costs and will consider Lord Justice Jackson’s comment carefully.’
The Gazette understands the department is giving its full backing to the Department of Health on fixed costs for clinical negligence claims. A consultation on the subject is imminent.
Jackson’s recommendations go beyond just one type of claim. Indeed, he urged ministers to pause any proposals for clinical negligence cases to prevent a ‘Balkanisation’ of different rates for different cases.
Jackson said practitioners’ experience of fixed fees in low-value claims up to £25,000 – as well as in the IP Enterprise Court – has been ‘satisfactory’.
He even went as far as to suggest a grid of rates, minus disbursements and VAT, for each value of claim: £18,750 for claims up to £50,000; £30,000 for claims up to £100,000; £47,500 for claims up to £175,000; and £70,250 for claims up to £250,000.
The judge said applying fixed costs to claims valued over £250,000 ‘would be too great a change for the profession’, although he suggested a universal costs regime could be implemented in the future.
The proposals have been condemned across the profession as unworkable and harmful to access to justice. Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said Chancery Lane is ‘extremely concerned’ by the blanket nature of Jackson’s plans, suggesting the application of fixed costs for highly complex cases was ‘totally inappropriate’.
Bar Council chair Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said a cap on costs could make cases ‘unviable’ to pursue with experienced lawyers.