Is it just me or should we all be concerned about the way in which the legislation to implement Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations is being introduced?
Why have there been so few announcements about what are, after all, radical and far reaching public policy changes? If we as legal professionals are unsure about the proposed changes, how can we properly advise the public after 1 April 2013?
Will legal professionals soon be joining bakers and caravanning enthusiasts in pointing out to the government the potential far reaching consequences of over hasty legislation?
In the foreword to his final report on costs in civil litigation dated 21 December 2009 Lord Justice Jackson wrote:
“ … I therefore propose a coherent package of interlocking reforms, designed to control costs and promote access to justice ...”
He went on to make a total of 109 separate recommendations some but not all of which have found their way into proposed new legislation. In particular the Conditional Fee Agreements Order 2013 (the CFA Order) and the Damages-based Agreements Regulations 2013 (the DBA Regulations) have now been laid before Parliament and were subject to a Motion to Approve debate in the House of Lords on 26 February 2013.
Both have been described by the General Council for the Bar (GCB) as “not fit for purpose”. The GCB also suggested that the proposed order and regulations “will deny access to justice, burden the courts’ time with unnecessary satellite litigation and limit the commercial use of DBAs”.
There are certainly grounds for concern. As we all know, the success fee under a CFA entered into after 1 April 2013 for proceedings at first instance will be capped at 25%. Article 5(2) of the proposed CFA Order provides that this will be 25% of “(a) general damages for pain, suffering, and loss of amenity; and (b) damages for pecuniary loss, other than future pecuniary loss” (my emphasis). However, in a lecture given on 29 February 2012, Lord Justice Jackson amended his view in response to submissions from a number of parties and proposed that the cap should be 25% of all damages. There must be a risk that in larger and more complicated cases which are difficult to cost budget and involve significant initial disbursements, limiting the cap to 25% of past losses will not promote “access to justice” as Lord Justice Jackson hoped but may in fact prove to be a disincentive to taking on such cases in the first place.
Then there is VAT. As drafted, the proposed CFA Order provides that the “damages” to which the 25% cap applies are “net of any sums recoverable by the Compensation Recovery Unit of the Department for Work and Pensions”. There is no exclusion for VAT. But if VAT is included in such damages there is not only scope for uncertainty (what happens, for example, if the VAT rate changes after the CFA has been entered into but before a bill of costs is rendered?) but in the larger and more complicated cases this may be a further reason why those contemplating taking on such cases may decline to do so on the grounds that the unpredictability of the risk will not be properly compensated by the level of the CFA.
The same objections apply to the proposed DBA Regulations. As presently drafted, the cap for DBAs is inclusive of VAT but exclusive of damages for future pecuniary loss. In addition, the DBA Regulations do not allow for “hybrid” agreements i.e. agreements under which some costs are recoverable if a “win” does not occur rather than no costs at all. This is again contrary to what Lord Justice Jackson recommended and may prove a disincentive to the use of DBAs particularly in commercial cases.
Access to justice may not be as newsworthy as Cornish pasties and static caravans but in resource-intensive cases, the government’s aim of protecting the damages recoverable by claimants may actually result in some claimants being unable to obtain legal representation and thus recovering no damages at all.