Costs and budgeting: 6 top tips from a judge

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Judges are becoming increasingly strict when it comes to costs and budgeting. In June the Senior Costs Judge Master Gordon-Saker demonstrated just how harsh the impact of the reasonable and proportionate rule can be in BNM v MGN Limited [2016] EWHC B13 (Costs).

The successful party claimed costs of £241,817. Following a line by line assessment of what was reasonable - costs that need to be incurred in order to bring the case – this was reduced to £167,389. However he concluded that this was twice the sum which would be proportionate and reduced costs further to £84,855.80. Speaking on the subject he said that “It is clear that the new test of proportionality was intended to bring about a real change in the assessment of costs”.

We asked the Senior Costs Judge, Master Gordon-Saker, for his advice for expert witnesses:

1. When asked for an estimate of fees for the purposes of costs budgeting, it is worth putting in the effort to ensure that it is accurate, detailed and transparent. Somebody else will have to try to justify it.

2. In any such estimate, include likely contingencies - further work such as clarification and amendment of reports, further reports, examinations and tests which may become necessary as a result of the other side's expert evidence.

3. Remember that the budget sums approved by the court are not caps or starting figures, they are the sums that will be allowed at the end of the case in the absence of a good reason to depart from the budget. Getting the estimate right is therefore important.

4. When billing, provide enough detail to justify the figures - work done, dates done, time spent on each aspect, hourly rate.

5. Avoid charging expenses which should fall within the hourly rate e.g. photocopying, stationery, postage, typing, etc. It looks mean. A lower hourly rate for travelling might be appropriate.

6. Find out what rates others are charging for your kind of work.

Put your questions to the Senior Costs Judge on 4 November at the Annual Bond Solon Expert Witness Conference. Master Gordon-Saker has the day-to-day management and leadership of the costs judges and the Senior Courts Costs Office.