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I previously expressed some concern as to whether those judges dealing with provisional assessments in the new Leeds assessment pilot would be sufficiently familiar with the minutia of legal costs law.
Those concerns have been somewhat reduced as I understand that all the provisional assessments will be done by one of two Regional Costs Judges (District Judge Bedford and District Judge Hill). Nevertheless, can they really both be expected to be walking legal costs encyclopaedias?
In one recent set of Replies I received the following cases were referred to: Bailey v IBC Vehicles Ltd, Cole v News Group Newspapers, Carpenter v Mid-Kent Healthcare Trust, William Patterson v Cape Darlington & Ors, Mattel Inc & Ors v RSW Group plc, Ghannouchi v Houni, Francis v Francis and Dickerson, Smith Graham v The Lord Chancellor’s Department and Crane v Canons Leisure Centre. I am going to hazard a guess and suggest that there is at least one case in there that the judges will not be familiar with. (Actually, it was fairly clear that the author of the Replies was not familiar with all these cases.) This sends us back to the problem that costs pleadings in the pilot courts are likely to explode in length as parties feel it essential to do more than simply quote the name of a case.
The second interesting issue is what happens if the pilot is a success? We know it is intended to be rolled out nationally if successful. If so, will it be only Regional Costs Judges involved? The danger would be that a successful pilot scheme undertaken by two experienced Regional Costs Judges is then extended nationally and provisional assessments are undertaken by judges who may know little or nothing about costs, resulting in chaos.
The answer would be to introduce what I have been advocating for years but what did not seem to interest Lord Justice Jackson, namely one or more regional Senior Courts Costs Offices. In a post-fast-track fixed fee world (that is surely rapidly approaching) there would probably need to be only one extra court in the North to compliment the one in London. Let’s give legal costs the judicial expertise it demands.