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Increases in hourly rates amount to 'special circumstances': Raydens Ltd v Cole [2021] EWHC B14 (Costs) - Rochelle Powell, Temple Garden Chambers

27/08/21. The Claimant solicitors acted for the Defendant in matrimonial proceedings between 2013 and 2018. The proceedings concluded, in the course of an ancillary relief hearing with an order which incorporated agreed terms of settlement. The order provided required the Defendant’s ex-husband to pay to the Defendant a lump sum of £800,000. Of that sum £290,000 was to be applied in the first instance to clearing the Defendant’s incurred costs.

As a result of late payment, the Claimant issued proceedings for recovery of their outstanding fees. The Defendant filed a defence disputing the claimed amount which read, simply: “I have requested to Rayden Solicitors that I would like a full assessment of my costs to be carried out. I am awaiting confirmation from them that the process has been started.” The matter proceeded to a CCMC at which an order was made recording the finding that the Defendant was out of time to apply for detailed assessment pursuant to section 70(3) of the Solicitors Act 1974, unless she could establish special circumstances.

The Law

Under section 70(1) of the Solicitors Act 1974, a solicitor’s client has an unqualified right to an order for detailed assessment of a bill delivered to the client if an application is made before the expiration of one month from delivery. If the client makes an application after that point, it will be made under section 70(2), which gives the court the discretion to make an order. Section 70(3)(a) limits that discretion by providing that if an application is made for the assessment of an unpaid bill after the expiration of 12 months from delivery, no order shall be made except in special circumstances.

Special Circumstances: Hourly Rates

The matter came before Costs Judge Leonard to consider the preliminary issue of whether there were “special circumstances”. Setting out the principles as to what amounts to...

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