Kevin Latham writes on the latest guidance for the conduct of remote cost hearings.
Detailed assessment proceedings are often not thought of as critical work. That is often fair, however, the reality is that the legal profession rely heavily on them.
After the ‘lockdown’ was imposed in the UK on 23 March 2020, upcoming detailed assessment hearings were, on the whole, vacated. That is entirely understandable reaction given the magnitude of the task facing the court service as a whole. But vacating detailed assessments for more than a few weeks will result in a substantial and damaging interruption for claimant and defendant firms alike. Claimant firms rely on cashflow, and insurers need to clear reserves across their book.
The number of trials being adjourned (where successful claimants would have secured orders for payments on account at the conclusion) added to vacated detailed assessments give rise to the perfect cashflow storm.
Moreover, the more detailed assessment hearings that are vacated, the more of a back-log there will be to work through once restrictions on movement have been lifted. The pressure that will place on court lists over the next 12-24 months should not be underestimated.
Keeping detailed assessments in the list wherever possible helps everyone.
GUIDANCE NOTE TO THE PROFESSION
With that in mind, a small working group has developed a short guidance note to the profession, setting out the steps which might reasonably be taken to ensure that detailed assessment hearings can be conducted remotely. That document is being hosted, for free, by the Association of Costs Lawyers and can be found here. The move has been welcomed by ACL Chair Claire Green, who has encouraged practitioners to familiarise themselves with its content.
The guidance has already gained the support of Regional Costs Judges who appear understandably keen to keep detailed assessments in the court’s list wherever possible. It is hoped that in short course, the guidance is adopted by Judges across the country.