Judge required to decide whether attendance at inquest and criminal trial was relevant to civil claim.
A human rights firm faces a reduced costs bill after a judge pared hourly rates and questioned the attendance of senior lawyers in court.
Master Gordon-Saker, sitting in the Senior Courts Costs Office, said the £1.6m claimed by London firm Deighton Pierce Glynn was a ‘huge sum’ for its work representing relatives of a man who died in police custody.
The firm was first instructed in 2005 following the death of Birmingham man Mikey Powell two years earlier: in the aftermath criminal proceedings were brought but the police officers acquitted. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) decided not to pursue disciplinary charges and an inquest was held.
Although the defendant denied liability, the claims from relatives of Powell were settled in November 2015 with undisclosed damages and a 96-page document published of lessons learned. The only issue remained the assessment of costs claimed by the claimants, with Gordon-Saker hearing preliminary issues in June.
In Powell & Ors v The Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, the judge was clear that the civil claim achieved ‘far more’ than a financial settlement, with the claimants’ position ultimately vindicated.
He also accepted it was both ‘reasonable and necessary’ for lawyers from Deighton Pierce Glynn to attend the 44-day criminal trial, but said this should be limited to one junior fee-earner or even a local agent or junior barrister in a local chambers.
The judge ruled that costs of pursuing complaints to the IPCC were not recoverable as part of the civil claim, as the outcome was not relevant to that claim.
The costs claimed for attending the 29-day inquest were £650,000, based on the presence of two senior junior counsel (both of whom went on to take silk) and a senior and junior fee-earner.
The claimant firm argued that counsel had complementary skills, while it was necessary for the senior solicitor to be there to coordinate the strategic approach to the witnesses as well as provide support to the claimants.
The judge acknowledged that the court could take a broad approach to whether the inquest work was useful for the civil claim, but he stated it was not necessary for the civil proceedings to instruct two counsel. It would also be reasonable, he said, for a junior fee-earner to be present throughout and a senior fee-earner to attend important parts of the evidence.
In terms of hourly rate, the judge rejected the defendant’s submission that the claimant should have instructed a Birmingham-based firm rather than one located in central London, concluding that Deighton Pierce Glynn was the one with the best experience required to run this claim.
But the hourly rate for the period from 2005 to 2011 was reduced slightly to £315 for the Grade A fee earner, £205 for the Grade C fee earner and £120 for the Grade D fee earner. These figures were raised to £335, £220 and £130 for the period since 2011.
Martin Westgate QC, instructed by Deighton Pierce Glynn, appeared for the claimants. Nicholas Bacon QC, instructed by Clyde & Co, appeared for the defendant.