The High Court has awarded five-figure costs midway through family litigation and made the point that the lawyers involved should not be expected to wait for payment.
Mr Justice Cobb ruled in Z (Schedule 1: Legal Costs Funding Order; Interim Financial Provision) that the mother in the case should be awarded more than £60,000 to pay the already incurred costs of her current legal advisers.
The dispute surrounds the future provision for a three-week-old girl and her mother, who is now living in the north east of England. The father is a multi-millionaire American.
The court heard that the father has already paid £22,400 towards the mother’s legal costs and makes no further offer; the mother claimed for more than £70,000 for legal costs incurred with her previous lawyers and £86,000 for costs incurred with her current solicitors, London-based Hunters Law LLP. This included £41,000 incurred in a three-week period before the baby was born.
Cobb said it was only necessary at this stage to settle the mother’s debts to her current solicitors, and the court heard that Hunters had ‘reached its tolerance’ about the unpaid costs it was prepared to take on.
The judge said there was no other legitimate or accessible funding stream and he stressed the firm should not carry such a significant debt for working unpaid.
He added: ‘The firm is not a charity, nor it is a credit agent [and] I am of the view that it is neither fair nor reasonable to expect the firm, and chosen counsel, to offer unsecured interest-free credit in order to undertake their work.
‘In this respect, I am concerned that the mother and Hunters should not become bound or ‘beholden’ to each other by the existing debt.’
The mother also claimed almost £95,000 for ongoing and future legal costs provision up to the financial dispute resolution appointment.
Lawyers for the father urged caution in relation to future costs, saying they could easily spiral ‘out of control’ and describing the figures as ‘eye-watering’. There was also anxiety expressed that allowing the mother’s full claim would give her licence or even encouragement to litigate.
The judge allowed a discounted sum in part to reflect the father’s lower bills, and directed that she should receive £65,000 paid in instalments.