A costs claim brought by rock musician Brian May against developer Wavell Group Limited is limited to 20% of the amount sought, a court has decided in the latest application of the principle of proportionality in civil costs.

Costs judge Master Rowley determined that costs allowed in the case should be reduced to £35,000 plus VAT. May had sought £208,236.54 including VAT. 

May (pictured) and his wife, who live in Kensington, London, brought proceedings in the county court for nuisance caused by a neighbour’s basement development.

The subsequent costs claim was disputed on grounds of being both unreasonable and disproportionate to the issues. The Mays had accepted compensation of £25,000 at an early stage in the claim.

Rowley reduced the costs in two steps. First, cutting the claim to £99,000 as a figure that was more ‘reasonable’. The second reduction was made after a proportionality test, introduced by Lord Justice Jackson's civil litigation reforms, was applied. 

The Mays had instructed Simon Farrell QC for the claim through a direct access scheme.

Boodle Hatfield partner Colin Young, who acted for Wavell, said: ‘Costs incurred should be tightly focused on the issues at large in the proceedings. 

‘If any party wishes to pursue matters outside of that focus, they cannot reasonably expect to recover the costs of such matters if they are successful in their case. The courts are likely to scrutinise ever more carefully the costs incurred.’

Farrell told the Gazette: ‘In this case 25% of the total costs claimed comprised acoustic expert fees and not legal fees. The Master found that approximately £97,000 costs were reasonably and necessarily incurred in bringing and pursuing the claim to settlement. He then went on to apply the new proportionality test to that figure of the costs which he had found to be reasonable and reduced it further. Proportionality and costs is a developing area and the Master described it as being in a “transitional phase”. This case raises an important point of principle.’ An appeal is being considered, he added.