BLP wrings £3m costs out of ConocoPhillips

Costs totalling some £3m have been awarded to Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and its barrister Lindsay Boswell QC in the longest energy case ever heard before the Technology and Construction Court.

Judge Richard Harvey QC, who made the award, ordered that the costs should be paid on an indemnity basis.

US energy giant ConocoPhillips, represented by Nicholson Graham & Jones, is liable for the costs after the dismissal of its case against engineering contractor Snamprogetti over alleged defects in gas compression facilities on a North Sea platform.

Far higher than the usual ‘standard’ basis, Harvey ordered the indemnity payment as a way of penalising the US company for refusing to accept Snamprogetti’s settlement offers during the run-up to trial.

Courts are increasingly getting tough on losing parties which refuse to accept ‘part 36’ settlement offers.

BLP partner Terry de Souza represented Snamprogetti during the 101-day trial. Boswell, a silk at Quadrant Chambers, acted without a junior for most of the trial.

Judge Harvey, who said ConocoPhillips’ refusal to accept Snamprogetti’s “very reasonable [settlement] offers [requires] some mark of disapproval by the court”, also demanded unprecedented interest payments to be made by the US company for legal costs.

Interest added to costs awards is normally equivalent to the Bank of England’s base rate. However, Harvey awarded interest at 5 per cent over the base rate, an amount he said was “quite a moderate rate in the circumstances”. The highest rate before this case was 3 per cent over the base rate.

In another unusual move by the costs court, the £3m award also includes payments to Snamprogetti’s employees, who undertook some of the technical investigative work usually carried out by lawyers or expert witnesses.

ConocoPhillips’ lawyer, Nicholson Graham & Jones partner James Hudson, declined to comment on the costs judgment. However, he said he would not be appealing the decision in the substantive case despite having got leave to do so by the Court of Appeal.