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"Something for nothing," should have been the title of a recent announcement by the Supreme Court Taxing Office.
The Supreme Court fees (Amendment) order, which came into force on 15 January 1997, was greeted with surprise and dismay by the profession.
Two of the more significant changes it makes are:
an increase of the taxing fee to £7.50 per £100
a requirement for payment of a fee on lodging the bill of £3.75 for every £100 of the full amount (ie inclusive of all VAT). According to the order this fee is non-refundable.
Gone is the opportunity for the paying party to enjoy a 14-day moratorium to make the Calderbank offer and so avoid liability for the bulk of the taxing fee. (See Taxing Masters Practice Direction 1.23 O 62, Part C).
The rule allowing withdrawal of the bill before taxation on payment of a reasonable fee for the work done in the taxing office has also gone. Now the court will take its fee come what may.
Those advising paying parties should take the initiative to start negotiating. They should ask for the bill to be sent to them at least 14 days before lodging at court, they should offer to extend time for lodging by at least 21 days and they should threaten that to dispute liability for the taxing fee if they are denied the opportunity of agreeing costs.
The receiving party's solicitors should always begin negotiations on costs early. They should be aware of the substantial additional liabilities for the paying party - who now faces having to pay interest on costs at 8 per cent plus the taxing fee of £7.50 per £100.
Both sides now have an incentive to settle costs. If agreement proves impossible, the bill should be sent to the paying party well before the three month time limit. At least 14 days should be allowed for agreement before the bill is lodged.
Most solicitors will ask the client whose bill is being taxed to pay the taxing fee. In legal aid cases, a payment on account should be obtained.
I hope that the Treasury will think again about the non returnable taxing fee - it will be hard to explain to the litigants why these high fees become payable if the court is in fact paid for doing nothing or next to nothing.