It has been a long time coming, and the outcome of the Civil Justice Council Costs Committee’s review of the guideline hourly rates, after much speculation, is finally here. There had been whispers of reductions across the board and the introduction of a new grade E, and the CJCCC’s report itself bears that out. Perhaps fortunately, the recommendations will largely not be implemented.
The report itself is well worth reading; save for some limited exceptions, the majority of recommendations in relation to the guideline hourly rates reflected a reduction. The Master of the Rolls, in declining to accept those recommendations, cited the clear and considerable reservations with which those recommendations had been put forward, and that in light of the limited information available to the CJCCC, the recommendations were not put forward on a strong evidential foundation, a fundamental shortcoming of the study. The Master of the Rolls was keen to emphasise his appreciation of the invaluable work and effort put into the report by all involved, though which ultimately had to be prepared without the ‘wherewithal’ to undertake a nationwide survey obliging solicitors to respond. The Master of the Rolls did not consider that it would be appropriate to uplift the previous guideline rates in line with inflation, especially in light of the net effect of the recommendations made.
There are some positives aspects of the report that will be implemented. The definition of a grade A fee earner will be revised to include Chartered Legal Executives of more than 8 years post qualification experience. A little closer to home for those practicing in costs (though we do have staff that are clocking up their PQE to be grade A Legal Executives) is the news that in light of the compelling evidence and arguments put forward by the ACL, the Master of the Rolls accepted the recommendation that Costs Lawyers should be able to charge grade C and B rates depending on the complexity of the matter in hand.
The renewed emphasis placed by the Master of the Rolls on the use of guideline hourly rates as only guidelines, and his call for greater flexibility to the assessment of hourly rates on detailed assessment as opposed to summary assessment are also welcome points to note.