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Fixed costs extension rules not ideal but almost ready for sign off

Fixed costs extension rules not ideal but almost ready for sign off

The timetable for implementing the extension of fixed recoverable costs remains on schedule, with rule-makers set to give their final approval before the end of the year.

Law Society Gazette

Minutes from July’s meeting of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee, published this week, reveal that drafting of the new rules will be completed this autumn and approved in time for implementation next April.

Fixed recoverable costs will apply across the fast-track and to most money cases worth up to £100,000, although not to clinical negligence claims which are being considered separately.

Since last November, a costs sub-committee has been tasked with overseeing the necessary drafting to bring about the extension. That exercise, the committee minutes noted, had been ‘substantial’ and highlighted some drafting issues.

The rules on fixed costs for personal injury claims are already set out in part 45 of the civil procedure rules, but the committee said the existing structure is ‘not ideal’ for the lay reader.

The minutes said Part 45 ‘has evolved in stages over time, with new elements being added on in a rather piecemeal way which has unfortunate consequences in terms of clarity of drafting’.

But the sub-committee was conscious that current FRC rules cover hundreds of thousands of cases every year and are generally well understood, adding that ‘tinkering risks wider and unintended consequences’.

The minutes said that the sub-committee, formed of two judges and a representative from the claimant and defendant sectors, ‘reluctantly’ concluded that the best option was to keep the current structure and try to make navigating the rules easier for the wider range of users that will use it.

Another consequence of the piecemeal drafting of Part 45 is that issues such as VAT and London weighting are dealt with ‘inconsistently’. Again this is described as ‘not ideal’ but the committee said the current rules seem to work and there would be substantial extra work by making changes for the sake of consistency.

The minutes add: ‘In the sub-committee’s view, pragmatism should take precedence over consistency of drafting, such that they will do the best they can, but that it may not amount to full consistency.’

Further updates and points of principle were due to be discussed at this month’s CPRC meeting, ahead of sign-off in December.

The government pushed ahead with the extension following a consultation in 2019 which had put forward proposals based on recommendations from Sir Rupert Jackson’s 2017 report. Ministers have said that fixed costs will give both parties certainty about the amounts they will have to pay if they are unsuccessful, and will ensure costs are proportionate. Critics say the proposals risk driving lawyers out of civil justice work if the costs are too low and will leave litigants to represent themselves.

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