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Litigant in person ordered to pay more than £80,000 in costs

Hourly rates claimed substantially lower than published guideline rates, says judge

29 August 2017

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A judge has rejected a doctor’s complaint of “excessive charges” by lawyers when ordering him to pay legal costs of more than £80,000.

The accusation was made by Doctor Jayaprakash Gosalakkal against Browne Jacobson and its counsel, Richard Powell, after Employment Judge Heap ordered the costs payment totaling £82,930.

The costs order by Judge Heap, published on 24 August, is believed to be one of the highest ever recorded in an employment tribunal case.

Under rule 78 of the Employment Tribunals (Constitution & Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013, a tribunal may make a costs order against a party for either a sum not exceeding £20,000 or an amount determined by way of a detailed assessment.

Judge Heap made his decision after Nottingham Employment Tribunal found in favour of the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust following claims by Dr Gosalakkal for breach of contract, unfair dismissal, race discrimination, and public interest disclosures.

Browne Jacobson acted for the respondent trust and initially sought costs of £98,321.

Dr Gosalakkal, who was a litigant in person throughout the proceedings, was ordered to pay the costs of his unsuccessful claims following his “unreasonable conduct” during the litigation. Among other things, he left one detailed assessment hearing abruptly and failed to return.

On the issues in dispute at the assessment hearing, Judge Heap said: “It appears to me that the claimant had somewhat lost sight of the wood for the trees insofar as the matters of points of dispute are concerned.”

After consideration Judge Heap decided that £82,930 should be paid despite complaints by Dr Gosalakkal that the amount was excessive. The judge pointed out that counsel alone had spent 316 hours on the case, a hearing bundle prepared by Browne Jacobson ran to 256 pages, and the original files of the solicitors instructed ran to some 27 lever arch files.

He rejected Dr Gosalakkal’s criticism and said a number of solicitors undertook work on the case with hourly rates ranging from £145 for partners to £135 for associate solicitors and £70 for trainee solicitors.

“The hourly rates, in actual fact, were substantially lower than those which could have been charged based on published guideline rates in the Guide to Summary Assessments of Costs,” said the judge.

Dr Gosalakkal also took issue with the costs attributed to the work of Ian Patterson, a partner at Browne Jacobson, who died during the early stages of proceedings.

The claimant referred to Patterson as a “main witness”, but could not provide the judge with a reason why his work should not be included in the detailed assessment. “As I say, the claimant has not been able to assist me in his oral submissions on that point and therefore I say no more about that particular matter,” said Judge Heap

On the issue of proportionality, the judge said: “At one stage of the proceedings, the claimant was claiming in excess of £2m. The claimant sought in the detailed assessment to downplay that position and that this was not, as he termed it, ‘a million dollar claim’ but it is clear from the documents before me that that was not a matter that the claimant recognised at the time as he continued during the course of the proceedings to submit updated schedules of loss in excess of £2m.

“These were complex proceedings, with vast numbers of documents, where the claimant was making his position abundantly clear that if he was to succeed he intended to ask the tribunal to award very substantial compensation indeed. It is also necessary to take account of the volume of correspondence and other communications which this matter generated.”

Peter Swingler is a freelance reporter

Categorised in:

Employment Costs

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