Rule-makers will be given recommendations for adjusting the guideline hourly rates by the end of this year, it has emerged.
Minutes from the March meeting of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee state that a sub-committee of the Civil Justice Council has been established and will report directly to committee chair Lord Justice Coulson. The proposal has the backing of the master of the rolls Sir Terence Etherton.
Given the lengthy time period since any material changes were made to the rate, it is envisaged this sub-committee will make recommendations by the end of the year, so rates can be adjusted at a point thereafter.
The issue, brought up as 'any other business' at the meeting, will be discussed at more length next month.
Pressure to alter the rates has increased in recent years, not least following the High Court’s ruling in Ohpen last year, when Mrs Justice O’Farrell said it was ‘unsatisfactory’ that guidelines were based on rates fixed in 2010 and reviewed in 2014. She pointed out that the rate were significantly lower than the hourly rates in many London law firms.
The rates were originally intended to help judges who were tasked for the first time with assessing costs as a result of the Woolf reforms and implementation of the Civil Procedure Rules. Previously they were locally-derived and based on information gathered by district judges and solicitors in practice in their county court.
Guideline rates are broken down into four bands based on the experience of the lawyer and differentiated for London and the rest of the country.
Rates are set at £409 for solicitors and legal executives with more than eight years’ experience based in London. This ranges down to £111 for trainee solicitors, paralegals and other fee earners in the lowest national grade.
Responding to news that the rate may be changed, Claire Green, chair of the Association of Costs Lawyers, said it was more important than ever during the coronavirus crisis that lawyers are paid a proper, economic rate that reflects the costs they have to carry.
She added: 'It goes without saying that this is a very difficult time with many competing priorities, but cash flow is particularly vital for many firms at the moment. A change in the GHR – not gratuitous, but still based on evidence – would be widely welcomed.'