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Lord Neuberger backs Jackson LJ over 'out of kilter' justice system

17 February 2012

Lord Neuberger has used the case of an injured bathroom fitter to give his backing to Lord Justice Jackson’s reforms, which the Master of the Rolls said he hoped would help ensure that costs became “more proportionate”.

Lord Neuberger said his own experience at the Court of Appeal and Jackson LJ’s final report suggested that the case, in which the claimant’s costs of pursuing a claim of around £12,750 amounted to £75,000, was not “particularly exceptional”.

Giving judgment at the Court of Appeal in Simcoe v Jacuzzi plc [2012] EWCA Civ 137, Lord Neuberger said: “I cannot end this judgment without referring back to the actual figures in this case.

“The claimant was seeking damages for a significant, but relatively minor and straightforward, personal injury suffered while at work.

“The claim was presumably worth around £12,750, the agreed damages. The claimant’s costs of pursuing that claim, which did not go to trial, were nearly £75,000.

“Unless this is an exceptional case, the fact that, without even incurring the cost of the trial, it cost the claimant nearly six times as much to pursue the claim as it was actually worth suggests that something is out of kilter in at least some parts of the civil justice system.

“It is therefore to be hoped that the changes which are in the process of being enacted and implemented in relation to civil costs and civil procedure will help ensure that costs become more proportionate.”

Lord Neuberger ruled that the fact that the claimant’s solicitors, Irwin Mitchell, were acting on a conditional fee basis did not justify departing from the general rule that interest on costs ran from the date of the costs order as opposed to the date costs were agreed.

He allowed the claimant’s appeal. Lord Justices Hooper and McFarlane agreed.

Rob Williams, partner and head of costs at Weightmans, said: “This decision will come as something of a disappointment, especially since the ability to avoid payment of ‘windfall’ interest to claimants on substantial claims for costs has delivered cash savings for paying parties for some time.”

Williams said Lord Neuberger’s comments that costs were out of kilter amounted to a “crumb of comfort for the defendant community”.

He added that the Master of the Rolls “recognises that the process initiated by Sir Rupert Jackson needs to be carried through to a conclusion to ensure costs are proportionate”.

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Costs Courts & Judiciary