A number of judges are sceptical about the wider merits of costs budgeting, a costs judge has claimed in a new judgment.
Master Richard Davison made the observation in Smith v W Ford & Sons (Contractors) Ltd as he rejected a plea from the defendant in an asbestos claim to apply costs budgeting rules.
The convention in such cases is to rely on detailed assessment rather than insist that parties present costs budgets, and the ruling supported this practice.
Master Davison rejected the idea there would be a ‘free-for-all’ without costs budgeting and said it was for the defendant to show, rather than merely assert, that costs in asbestos cases are disproportionate or not adequately controlled.
On the wider issue of costs budgeting, he continued: ‘QB masters, Chancery masters and costs judges do not necessarily share this defendant’s expressed confidence that costs budgeting controls costs better, or more effectively, than detailed assessment. This is a large topic and a complex and somewhat sensitive issue. The present hearing is not, perhaps, the forum to debate it at any length.’
The master said it was ‘quite a firm convention’ that costs budgeting was disapplied in asbestos claims. This reflected the fact that such claims had to be dealt with quickly and could be listed within weeks or even days of the issuing of a claim form.
The master said these listing arrangements could not accommodate costs budgeting or even too many debates about whether costs budgeting should apply.
The defendant argued that this was a deceased case and would be a heavily contested trial. The master said there was no distinction made between ‘deceased’ and ‘living’ cases, and that it was not unusual for the dispute to be complex.
He added: ‘There is no evidence that the process of detailed assessment is not adequately controlling costs in asbestos cases. If the costs of asbestos cases were placed against the costs incurred in other cases of industrial disease, which have been costs budgeted, I would be surprised if there were much, if indeed any, difference.’
Speaking following the ruling, Julian Caddick, head of costs at Thompsons Solicitors, said asbestos-related cases have had costs managed efficiently and effectively by the courts through detailed assessment, or more commonly by agreement, for years.
He added: 'It makes no sense to clog up already busy courts with additional work and arguments about costs, which will only delay the cases of claimants who are seriously ill – so we are glad that Master Davison took this pragmatic and helpful approach.'