’Fessing up about fees

Look out, fee disclosure is about to hit the big time, becoming a feature of all civil cases

In case you missed it, from April next year all court users will be under an obligation to give a detailed assessment of their predicted fees in advance of the full trial hearing. It is a monumental shift brought about by Lord Justice Jackson’s costs reform programme.

The idea is that, should a judge disagree with how much is being spent on legal teams by a litigant, they have the option of curtailing the final settlement.

The scheme was piloted on a voluntary basis at Birmingham’s mercantile court over two years. Hardly surprisingly, it did not prove popular – only four cases were volunteered. Jackson LJ pushed on regardless and in the past year it has been trialled in defamation cases and in the Technology and Construction Court.

And now for the big time – from April it will be a feature of all civil cases. Instead of leaving costs to be determined after the main event the issue will be pushed to the top of the priority list.

Giving away your fee secrets to your opponent – one you are up against in a spikey legal fight – is not going down well with litigators.

Costs lawyers are also warning that litigation games will start to come into play, whereby one side attempts to freeze out the other by front-loading costs with a client happy to take the hit on the settlement.

No doubt we are in for another round of satellite litigation about civil procedure. Possibly not something Jackson LJ envisaged when he set out to bring down civil litigation fees.