The High Court has stepped in to reduce the hourly rates claimed by lawyers representing retail giant Sir Philip Green against the Telegraph in a case arising from press reports about the use of non-disclosure agreements.
Mr Justice Warby said the claimants, represented by London firm Schillings International LLP, should be limited to no more than a £550 hourly rate. They had claimed for up to £690.
Green and two of his companies are seeking an injunction to restrain the Telegraph Media Group from publishing information about the claimants. Green’s identity as a party to an anonymity order was disclosed in parliament, but details of the underlying information remain protected. A two-week trial is due to begin on 4 February.
Mr Justice Warby dealt with a number of pre-trial applications this week, including the issue of costs management.
The judge said it was unfortunate to undertake costs budgeting so near to trial, but this was commonplace when a case begins with an urgent application for an interim injunction, and an order made for a speedy trial.
Warby J said this had meant a large proportion of costs had already been incurred, so he could only approve costs of the pre-trial review, trial preparation and the trial itself.
He commented that some of the incurred costs of the claimants were ‘very high’ – particularly in comparison with the defendant. The claimants have incurred £472,757 for witness statements, roughly five times the defendant’s figure of £80,942.
The hourly rates claimed by the claimants ranged from £190 (for a Grade D lawyer, a trainee) to £690 (for a Grade A lawyer, a partner). Other partners’ rates claimed by the claimants are between £510 and £635 per hour. The judge stated all these figures are ‘well in excess’ of the guideline rates, which are £126 for Grade D to £409 for Grade A.
Warby J said he did not consider that hourly rates of more than £550 could be justified, and proportionate reductions should also be made in the lower partners’ rates.
He added that the claimants’ estimates reflected an ‘unnecessary degree’ of partner involvement, and a ‘degree of overmanning’ that could not be justified. The judge rejected the claimants’ criticism of the defendant’s use of partner time.
The judge added: ‘Of course, fees in excess of the guidelines can be and often are allowed, and in this case the defendants (who themselves claim up to £450 per hour) and I both accept that fees above those rates are justified. But not to the extent of the differences here.’