The Court of Appeal has reduced counsel fees after a party arrived for a one-day costs hearing with his entire legal team in tow. Lady Justice King said the fees incurred in the final throes of Timokhina v Timokhin were unreasonable, as was the presence of a QC for the hearing last October.
The judge reduced the party’s costs by £31,250, removing the QC’s brief fee and halving that of the junior counsel who also appeared.
The court ruled following a dispute between separated Russian-born parents over arrangements for their two UK-based children, and the husband’s application for their return to Russia. That application was granted, and the mother later asked permission to appeal the order.
The mother’s lawyers, from London firm Hughes Fowler Carruthers (HFC), wrote in September 2018 to the father’s representatives Withers saying she agreed to withdraw her appeal on the basis that there was no order for costs.
King LJ said it was clear by this time that the only remaining issue was costs, and she noted that HFC had flagged up it would be ‘simply absurd’ to incur substantial counsel fees for any future hearing.
Nevertheless, the parties appeared before a judge last October for a hearing, with the mother represented by Joshua Viney charging a brief fee of £1,500, and the father represented by Deborah Eaton QC and Stephen Jarmain, whose fees for this hearing were £25,000 and £12,500 respectively.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the judge was right to award the costs of a previous hearing, right to assess costs on an indemnity basis, and had not erred in conducting a summary assessment of costs.
But on the entirety of the father’s costs, including the final hearing, the Court of Appeal rejected that the case was about anything but costs by the time of the October hearing.
King LJ said it was ‘unreasonable’ for a QC to have attended a ‘low-level hearing’ when there was no longer any threat to the welfare of the children.
She said junior counsel had appeared in the costs appeal and there was ‘no question’ he was ‘more than capable’ of dealing with a summary costs assessment ‘without the guiding hand’ of senior counsel.
The judge also made clear that Jarmain’s £12,500 fee was ‘reasonably incurred [but] unreasonable in amount’, especially in comparison with the £1,500 charged by an unled barrister on the opposite side.