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You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> United Kingdom Employment Appeal Tribunal >> Godfrey Morgan Solicitors Ltd v Cobalt Systems Ltd (Practice and Procedure : Costs) [2011] UKEAT 0608_10_3108 (31 August 2011)
URL: http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2011/0608_10_3108.html
Cite as: [2011] 6 Costs LR 1006, [2011] UKEAT 0608_10_3108, [2012] ICR 305

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Appeal No. UKEAT/0608/10/LA

 

 

EMPLOYMENT APPEAL TRIBUNAL

58 VICTORIA EMBANKMENT, LONDON EC4Y 0DS

 

 

At the Tribunal

 On 25 May 2011

Judgment handed down on 31 August 2011

 

 

Before

THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE UNDERHILL (PRESIDENT)

SITTING ALONE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GODFREY MORGAN SOLICITORS LTD APPELLANT

In a matter of a Costs Order

 

 

 

 

 

COBALT SYSTEMS LTD RESPONDENT

 

 

 

Transcript of Proceedings

 

JUDGMENT

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APPEARANCES

 

 

 

 

 

For the Appellant

MR MURRAY GRANT

(of counsel)

Instructed by:

GMS Law

Roxley House

68 Yarmouth Road

Norwich

NR7 0QZ

For the Respondent

No appearance

 

 

 

 


SUMMARY

 

PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE – Costs

 

 

 

Wasted costs - Claim brought under contingency fee arrangements under which solicitors would not represent client at hearing but would require to be put in funds to instruct counsel – Claimant unable and unwilling, as should have been apparent if he had been properly advised, to engage counsel if claim did not settle before hearing – Employers refuse to contemplate settlement – Judge finds, after hearing evidence from both Claimant and solicitor, both of whom are cross-examined, that solicitors (a) failed to advise Claimant timeously that there was no prospect of settlement and (b) when, later, Claimant himself gave instructions to withdraw failed to implement those instructions until they were repeated a few days before the hearing – On that basis ordered to pay employers’ wasted costs as from the date at which the Claimant would, if timeously advised, have withdrawn – Judge refused to allow solicitors to produce their file for the first time at the hearing for the purpose of demonstrating that Claimant had in fact been properly advised

 

 

Held, dismissing appeal:

 

(1) Judge entitled to refuse to allow solicitors to produce their file for the first time at the hearing

 

(2) Judge not wrong to allow employers to make submissions and to cross-examine – Observations of Elias J. in Ratcliffe Duce and Gammer v Binns doubted

 

(3) Judge did not misdirect himself as to the applicable principles, notwithstanding not having been referred to the relevant authorities

 

Observations on areas of difficulty in dealing with applications for wasted costs

 


THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE UNDERHILL (PRESIDENT)

 

INTRODUCTION

 

1.            This is an appeal against a wasted costs order in the sum of £7,313 made by Employment Judge Ash in the Norwich Employment Tribunal on 12 January 2010.  The order was made against the firm of solicitors acting for the Claimant in the underlying proceedings, Godfrey Morgan Solicitors Ltd (“GM”).  The Respondent by its solicitors, Leathes Prior (“LP”), has written to this Tribunal indicating that while it resists the appeal it does not wish to incur the costs of attending the hearing, and it has confined its written representations to submitting a copy of its skeleton argument below.  The Claimant has also, understandably, not attended.  I have thus heard oral submissions only from counsel for GM, Mr. Murray Grant: I am grateful to him for a careful skeleton argument.  There was regrettably, for reasons into which I need not go, some delay in the appeal being listed: I am sorry to have added to that delay by having had to reserve my judgment for longer than I had originally expected. 

 

2.            It is convenient to set out at the start the relevant terms of rule 48 of the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure, which gives tribunals the power to make wasted costs orders:

 

“(1)     A tribunal or Employment Judge may make a wasted costs order against a party's representative.

(2)     In a wasted costs order the tribunal or Employment Judge may:—

(a)     disallow, or order the representative of a party to meet the whole or part of any wasted costs of any party, … ; and

(b) …

(3)     “Wasted costs” means any costs incurred by a party:—

(a)    as a result of any improper, unreasonable or negligent act or omission on the part of any representative; or

(b)     which, in the light of any such act or omission occurring after they were incurred, the tribunal considers it unreasonable to expect that party to pay.

(4)     In this rule “representative” means a party's legal or other representative or any employee of such representative, but it does not include a representative who is not acting in pursuit of profit with regard to those proceedings. A person is considered to be acting in pursuit of profit if he is acting on a conditional fee arrangement.

(5) …

(6)     Before making a wasted costs order, the tribunal or Employment Judge shall give the representative a reasonable opportunity to make oral or written representations as to reasons why such an order should not be made. The tribunal or Employment Judge may also have regard to the representative's ability to pay when considering whether it shall make a wasted costs order or how much that order should be.

(7)-(9)  … .”

 

BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

 

3.            The Respondent is a small engineering company owned by a husband and wife, Mr and Mrs Carey.  The Claimant was employed in 1999 and was at all material times working as a machine operative on £1,150 per month gross.  He was dismissed on 25 May 2008, ostensibly for misconduct.  It was his case that the incident in question, which was trivial and had occurred several weeks before the decision to dismiss him, was not the true reason for his dismissal and that he had in fact been dismissed because he had taken paternity leave.  It appears from the material that I have seen that the Claimant obtained alternative employment very soon after his dismissal, so that his claim for financial loss was likely to be no more than £3,000; and although that precise material was not before the Judge it is reasonable to infer that he was aware that this was a very low-value claim. 

 

4. Shortly after the dismissal the Claimant engaged GM to represent him in connection with the claim against the Respondents under the terms of a document headed “Contingency Fee Agreement”.  The solicitor handling the case was a Mr. Richard Clegg.  For present purposes I need refer to only to the preamble to the Agreement, which reads (so far as material): 

 

 “If your claim succeeds you pay us as our fee an amount equivalent to 25% of your compensation plus any disbursement if the case is settled before applying to the Employment Tribunal, 35% of your compensation plus disbursements if the case is settled after submitting the claim but before a Hearing or 50% of your compensation plus disbursements agreed at or awarded at the Employment Tribunal Hearing.

If your claim succeeds and you are reinstated in or reemployed by your employer then you shall pay our costs on a time engaged basis at a rate of £150.00 per hour plus VAT.  In addition you shall pay disbursements.

...

If you lose the case you do not pay us anything except the Initial Assessment Fee and disbursements.

NB  Disbursements are payments we make on your behalf to others involved in your case.  These include a Barristers Fee should the matter proceed to a Tribunal Hearing.  We will notify you of disbursements incurred as we go along.

If you end the Agreement before we agree with you that the work on your claim is completed, you are liable to pay our costs at the rate of £150.00 per hour plus VAT.  The amount charged will depend on the level of fee earner engaged on any aspect of your matter.

For what happens if we end the Agreement before the case is won or lost, please refer to Paragraph 5.”

 

(Although it is not directly material to the issues on this appeal I must observe that the lack of punctuation in the first paragraph, which I have reproduced exactly as it appears, is thoroughly confusing.  It may be clear to a lawyer that each of the second and third “if”s should start a new sentence; but to a layman of limited education it would, to say the least, hard to follow.  It is unimpressive that a firm of solicitors should be responsible for so shoddy a piece of drafting.  I have to say that this is in keeping with the correspondence from GM which I have seen: the standard of English generally and punctuation in particular is very poor.) 

 

5. On 19 August 2008 GM presented an ET1 on the Claimant’s behalf.  The claims pleaded were unfair dismissal, sex discrimination and unpaid holiday pay.  On 22 December 2008 a pre-hearing review was directed in order to consider whether the sex discrimination claim was in time.  On 13 January GM wrote on the Claimant’s behalf withdrawing that part of the claim.  The claim proceeded only in relation to the unfair dismissal claim.  (I am not clear what happened to the holiday pay claim, but nothing turns on that for present purposes.)

 

6. On 14 January 2009 an order was made at a CMD requiring: mutual disclosure by 28 January; inspection within 14 days of request by the other party; agreement of a bundle no later than four weeks before the hearing, with the bundle itself to be lodged by the Respondent no less than three weeks before the hearing; and witness statements to be exchanged two weeks before the hearing.  In May 2009 the claim was listed for a two-day hearing on 17 and 18 August.  The Judge found that at that point Mr Clegg told the Claimant that he would need to fund the instruction of counsel for the hearing; that that took him by surprise because he had understood, rightly or wrongly, that he would not have to pay anything up front and that he was in fact unable to do so; and that he told GM that in those circumstances he could not proceed.

 

7. Notwithstanding that decision on the part of the Claimant GM did not forthwith inform LP that the claim was withdrawn.  The deadlines for agreement of a bundle and the lodging of witness statements went by unmet, but it was only on 13 August that they wrote withdrawing the remainder of his claim.  That led to an application by LP the following day for an order for costs against the Claimant, alternatively for wasted costs against GM. 

 

8. The hearing of the costs applications was initially listed for 13 October.  The Claimant and the Respondent, but not GM, attended on that date and the Claimant brought with him a witness statement.  Employment Judge Laidler held that proper notice had not been given to GM, and the hearing had accordingly to be adjourned.  Directions were given for the Respondent to serve a skeleton argument in support of its applications by 27 October, and for GM to serve in response “written representations as to why a wasted costs order should not be made against them ... [under] ... rule 48”.  There was an order for mutual disclosure of “the documents ... relevant to the claims and to the grounds of resistance”.  The order for disclosure was carelessly drafted, or recorded, because the documents required were plainly those relevant to the costs applications; but there can have been no real doubt as to what was intended. 

 

THE HEARING AND THE REASONS

 

9. The hearing took place, as I have said, on 12 January 2010.  The Claimant and Mr Clegg were both present.  Mr Chapman of LP represented the Respondent. 

 

10. The documents before the Tribunal, besides the pleadings and correspondence relating to the abandoned claim, consisted of: (a) a letter from the Claimant to the Tribunal dated 12 September giving reasons why he should not have to pay any costs; (b) the Claimant’s witness statement; (c) a witness statement from Mr Clegg, which was evidently intended to constitute the written representations directed by the Judge Laidler (and which exhibited the Agreement but no other documents); and (d) a skeleton argument from LP, which exhibited the inter partes correspondence. 

 

11. I need not rehearse the full contents of the statements.  But I should summarise what the Claimant said in his witness statement about the circumstances of the late withdrawal.  He said that when in May 2009 he was asked to pay counsel’s fees he told Mr Clegg that “there was no way I could afford it”.  He said that Mr Clegg then attempted to negotiate with LP a settlement at £3,000 but that they made clear (he does not give a precise date) that the Respondent was not interested in settlement, and that he told Mr Clegg on 25 June that he “wanted to discontinue the case”.  He said that he repeated those instructions in a further conversation on 3 July, in a message left with Mr Clegg’s secretary at a later date in July, and yet again in a telephone conversation on 25 July.  He said that Mr Clegg was away from work for most of July and August and that the late communication of his instructions to withdraw was squarely GM’s fault.  Mr Clegg in his statement took issue with that account.  His statement is discursive, though also short on detail; and much of it is concerned with ill-founded criticism of LP for being unwilling to negotiate.  But he does say in terms that he was not given instructions to withdraw at any time until 12 August: rather, the Claimant’s instructions were to seek to negotiate.  He refers to a telephone conversation on 15 June and a letter dated 24 July but he does not exhibit the letter or an attendance note of the conversation.  The Claimant’s witness statement plainly waives privilege in all communications between himself and Mr Clegg; and Mr Clegg’s statement proceeds on that basis.

 

12. Mr Clegg has made for the purposes of this appeal a witness statement exhibiting his note of the hearing before the Judge.  This was submitted to LP for agreement about a fortnight before the appeal hearing but they have declined to comment on it.  In those circumstances I am prepared to treat is as a broadly accurate summary, though it is clearly a tidied-up version of Mr Clegg’s original notes, and I am not convinced of its complete accuracy.  Reading the note with the Judge’s Reasons, it appears that the hearing fell into three stages:

 

(1) The Judge heard submissions from Mr Chapman in support of both applications, i.e. both against the Claimant under rule 40 and against GM under rule 48.  There was then evidence from Mr Clegg and from the Claimant.  The Claimant was cross-examined by Mr Clegg and Mr Clegg was cross-examined by Mr Chapman.  The Judge then heard further submissions.  It would appear from Mr Clegg’s note that he himself made no oral submissions, either before or after the oral evidence.  That is rather surprising, though of course his case was clearly set out in his statement; but there is no suggestion that he was prevented from making any submissions if he wanted.  At the conclusion of this stage the Judge announced that he proposed to make a wasted costs order but that he was prepared to hear submissions as to amount. 

 

(2) The Judge then heard argument as to the amount of the order.  His conclusion was that “the writing was on the wall” by May 2009 at latest and that GM should pay LP’s costs as from that date.  There was then a further short adjournment in order to enable the parties to reach an agreement about figures.

 

(3) After the adjournment the parties told the Judge that they had reached agreement subject to some minor points which he then resolved.  The eventual amount ordered to be paid was, as I have said, £7,313.

 

No order was made against the Claimant. 

 

13. The Judge was asked to supply written Reasons, which were sent to the parties on 8 February.  It seems clear from the drafting that the written Reasons are simply a typed-up version (with minimal editing) of the oral reasons given at the conclusion of the first and second stages of the hearing: that is not in itself a matter of criticism but it needs to be borne in mind in analysing the reasoning.  I have to say that the reasoning is far from entirely clear and at some points the Judge’s meaning has to be teased out.  However, it can be summarised as follows:

 

(1) Paras. 1-5 summarise the procedural history and explain the nature of the costs incurred by the Respondent.

 

(2) Para. 6 records that the Judge had been referred to the decision of the Court of Appeal in McPherson v BNP Paribas [2004] ICR 1398 and sets out a passage from the judgment of Mummery LJ.  However, that authority, which appears to have been cited by Mr Chapman, is relevant only to the claim for costs against the Claimant under rule 40 and not to the wasted costs claim, in relation to which no authority is cited. 

 

(3) At para. 7 the Judge says:

 

“We heard evidence from Mr Clegg, Godfrey Morgan’s appointed solicitor in this matter and also from Mr Willimott.  We much prefer the evidence of Mr Willimott and are satisfied that he had attempted to tell his solicitors that he was not interested in pursuing the Claim and that they carried on and only finally withdrew representation from him, and then at the last minute, because he declined to pay for a barrister to represent him at the hearing because he, Mr Willimott, was under the understandable belief that he would not have to pay for a barrister before the hearing in accordance with his contingency fee agreement with his solicitors.”

 

(“We” is a slip: the Judge was sitting alone.)  That passage contains the Judge’s crucial finding of primary fact.  It is very summary and not perfectly expressed.  But the effect is adequately clear (particularly when read with the further passages which I set out below), namely that, of the two wholly divergent accounts summarised at para. 11 above, he preferred the Claimant’s to Mr Clegg’s.

 

(4) Paras. 8-17 are under the heading “Law and Conclusions”.  Paras. 8 and 9 appear to be intended as a general introduction to the Judge’s reasoning.  They read as follows:

 

“8.  This is a troubling case because the longer it went on the more apparent it became that whatever the minutiae of phone calls and letters the overall position is as set out by Mr Chapman in his submissions both before the case and amplified in his closing submissions.  Godfrey Morgan built up the Claimant’s hopes.  They tried to get a settlement.  The Respondents were not prepared to make any offers.  What Godfrey Morgan were doing was attempting in their final resort to get a nuisance payment.

9. It is also apparent that apart from some attempts at negotiation in the sense of reducing the demands made over a period of time, the solicitors did precious little to assist their client, explain what was going on, or make clear the nature of the various costs incurred in good time.  Even worse than that when in May of last year it became apparent that the claimant would have to pay the Barrister’s costs up front, and he was unable to pay them, in the naïve, but we are satisfied honest view that he would have to pay anything until after the hearing, consistent with the general tenor of the compromise agreement.  However, I am satisfied that as soon as the Claimant’s solicitors knew he was not prepared to pay, apart from making a further demand for a lower sum, they did little or nothing to assist their client and pulled the rug, in no uncertain terms, well before the hearing.  They did not actually tell the Respondent’s solicitors the case was withdrawn until far too late and all the costs had been incurred.  Much work had been done by the Respondent’s solicitors, perfectly properly, and the lay witnesses had returned from their holiday to attend the hearing.”

 

(Something has gone wrong with the second sentence of para. 9, but I think the gist must be that even when it became clear, in May, that the Claimant could not afford to be represented at the hearing GM did not help to handle the consequences – and, in particular, did not communicate a prompt withdrawal.  “Compromise agreement” must, I think, be a slip for “Conditional Fee Agreement”.) 

 

(5) At para. 10 the Judge says that “a number of points arise before I look at Rule 48”.  The points in question appear therefore to be intended more as ground-clearing than as being central to his reasoning.  The first point is that the Respondent was not to be criticised for being unwilling to negotiate.  The second is that, as the Judge put it at para. 11:

 

“It is also the duty of a professional solicitor to assist his client, to give good advice and to ensure that the Orders of a Tribunal are complied with timeously.  They were not in this case.  That is entirely the fault of the solicitor and no criticism attaches to their lay client.”

 

(I have had to correct the punctuation a little.)  Although on a literal reading it seems that the only criticism of GM is that it did not comply with the Tribunal’s orders, it is in fact reasonably clear from what is said elsewhere that in addition the Judge believed that GM did not properly “assist” the Claimant or “give [him] good advice”.

 

(6) At para. 12 the Judge briefly summarises the effect of rule 48 (3).  At paras. 13 and 14 he says:

 

“13. I am satisfied that the attitude and the approach of Godfrey Morgan in this case was improper; they were out to get a settlement from the Respondents if they could.  If they could not they had no intention of pursuing the case and doing the necessary work beforehand in accordance with the Orders of this Tribunal.  As far as they were concerned it was the Claimant’s fault because he could not find the money up front for a barrister.  That is improper; it is unprofessional.  It is certainly unreasonable.  The conduct of Godfrey Morgan Solicitors caused the costs to be incurred unnecessarily by the Respondent.

14. I accept Mr Chapman’s submission that had proper advice been given originally, had the true cost position been pointed out to their client properly, simply and straightforwardly it is more than likely that he would not have proceeded with [the] claim.”

 

(7) At paras. 18-26 – which reproduce the judgment given after the second stage of the hearing - the Judge deals with the question of quantum.  This is relevant only to the extent that it casts light on the basis on which the Judge decided to make an award.  In that context I should note that at para. 22 he says:

 

“I am satisfied that in one sense right from the start [GM] were out for a settlement and were not going to do very much work to achieve one, especially if their client was not going to pay for a Barrister.  So I have sympathy with Mr Chapman’s points that they should pay from day one ... .”

 

But at para. 23 he goes on to accept that the Claimant’s case, at least as regards unfair dismissal, was arguable - although he regarded it as “very weak” - so that a competent firm of solicitors “might initially have taken on the case”. His decisive criticism of GM appears, rather, to be that GM

 

“... simply did not have proper procedures in place to regulate this litigation and to advise their client sensibly in the event that the Respondent quite clearly was not going to make any offer of settlement.”

 

 

It was on that basis that he decided to award costs only from the date at which he believed that “the writing was on the wall”, which he said seemed to him to be “as early as February, certainly by May”. 

 

14. It is necessary to identify with precision the improper and unreasonable behaviour on the part of GM which the Judge found.  I have to say that this is not straightforward because he makes several criticisms of GM without making it clear how they fit together.  The starting-point must be para. 13 of the Reasons because at first sight that appears to be where the Judge states his conclusion and (albeit in summary form) his reasons for it.  The first sentence might suggest that he believed that it was improper for GM to accept instructions on the basis that they hoped and expected the case to settle; and parts of para. 8 point in the same direction.  Such a criticism would plainly be unfounded: even if the Judge was right in regarding the case as weak (as to which I need express no view) there is nothing improper in a firm of solicitors accepting instructions in a weak case.  However, the remainder of the paragraph makes it clear that his criticism is based on something more than that.  He starts by saying that when they accepted the case GM had no intention of doing the work necessary to bring the claim to a hearing, even where required by the Tribunal’s directions, if it did not settle first.  That is a very strong finding.  What it would mean is that GM had decided – from the start - that if there was no settlement they would not even go to the trouble of agreeing a bundle of documents or helping to prepare a witness statement for the hearing and would (presumably) simply walk away.  That would be astonishingly cynical and also a plain breach of their obligations under the Agreement.  Despite the Judge’s literal words I find it hard to believe that that is what he meant; and if he did it is strongly arguable that the findings and reasoning are inadequate to support so serious a conclusion.  In my view it is necessary to read this sentence together with the point which the Judge goes on to make about the instruction of counsel.  His actual expressed criticism is that GM regarded it as the Claimant’s fault that he could not find the money to fund the instruction of counsel.  On the face of it that is a surprising criticism, since the Agreement makes clear that in all possible scenarios the Claimant was responsible for disbursements and it is stated explicitly that disbursements “include a Barristers Fee should the matter proceed to a Tribunal Hearing” (see the antepenultimate paragraph set out at para. 4 (2) above).  However, at para. 7 the Judge finds that the Claimant “was under the understandable belief that he would not have to pay for a barrister before the hearing in accordance with [the Agreement]”; and at para. 14 there is a finding that “the true cost position had not been pointed out ... properly, simply and straightforwardly”.  Para. 23 is to the same effect.  Taking these passages together, I think that the Judge’s real criticism was that, whatever the Agreement said, GM did not properly convey to the Claimant, a man of limited education, that if there was no settlement before the hearing he would have to fund the instruction of counsel himself.  They simply took the case on in the hope of a settlement and did not explain to the Claimant what the position would be if no settlement offer were forthcoming – and, specifically, that he would have to fund the instruction of a barrister for the hearing.  It must be recalled that he made that finding after hearing the oral evidence of both the Claimant and Mr Clegg. 

 

15. However, although that seems to be the thinking behind paras. 13 and 14, it does not seem to me to be the basis for the order eventually made.  After hearing further argument, the Judge in the second stage of the hearing awarded costs only as from May 2009.  The significance of that date is that it was said at para. 24 to represent the point when “the writing was on the wall”.  This phrase is rather obscure.  Mr Grant in his submissions treated it as meaning the date at which, in the Judge’s view, it became clear that the claim had no prospect of success.  But I do not think that is right: I think he meant it to be the date at which it became clear that the case would not settle.  If one reads paras. 23-24 with paras. 7 and 9 of the Reasons it seems to me that the Judge’s reasoning can be summarised as follows:

 

(a) Although this was not a case which it was improper to advance, it was one in which it did not make sense to incur counsel’s fees for a hearing – partly because of its inherent weakness but principally because the amount at stake was so small.  And in any event the Claimant could not afford counsel.

 

(b) If counsel were not instructed for any hearing, the case would have to be dropped.  It was always clear, or would have been if the Claimant had been confronted squarely with the question, that he was not prepared to pay for counsel nor to represent himself.

 

(c) That being so, when and if it became clear that the Respondent was not interested in settlement it was essential that the Claimant be advised promptly and explicitly that it was pointless to proceed.

 

(d) That point was reached in May 2009 at latest.  But GM did not give the necessary advice.  Further, even when, in June, the Claimant of his own motion made it clear that he did not want to proceed GM failed to act on those instructions.

 

(e) The consequence of those omissions by GM was that a case proceeded which the Claimant himself did not wish any longer to pursue.  The continuation of the case in those circumstances is plainly, though the Judge did not use this actual phrase, an abuse of process.

 

16. I accept that that reasoning may be hard to reconcile with the reasoning analysed in para. 14 above, i.e. essentially that GM had acted improperly and/or unreasonably from the start.  The logic of that reasoning would appear to be that the Respondent should have had the totality of its costs: indeed the Judge comes close to acknowledging that at para. 22 of the Reasons.  What seems to have happened is that, whether he fully recognised it or not, the Judge’s thinking was somewhat modified at the second stage of the hearing.  But any such inconsistency is in GM’s favour.  The real question is whether the reasoning as I have summarised it at (a)-(e) above, which is the actual dispositive reasoning, can be impugned. 

 

THE APPEAL

 

17. Mr Grant in his skeleton argument helpfully summarised the grounds pleaded in the Notice of Appeal under three heads, which I take in turn.

 

(1) EVIDENCE NOT ADMITTED

 

18. Para. 6.3 of the Notice of Appeal pleads  that “when the Appellant attempted to cross examine the Claimant on the documents in his file the Employment Tribunal ruled that he could not do so”.  Mr Clegg’s note of the hearing gives a little (though not much) more detail, recording that when he announced his intention of taking the Claimant through various letters and attendance notes on the file “Chairman Ash stated that he would not allow any reference to the file as the file of papers had not been lodged at the Tribunal”.  The point is not addressed, still less controverted, in the Respondent’s Answer, which – unhelpfully on this point – simply relies on the Tribunal’s reasons. 

 

19. I was shown the file which Mr Clegg sought to introduce in the Tribunal.  I need not attempt a full summary of its contents.  It is sufficient to say that, although the correspondence and attendance notes leave some unanswered questions and are not altogether conclusive, they certainly cast some doubt on the Judge’s criticisms of GM’s advice to the Claimant; and as regards the sequence of events between May and August 2009 they are more easily reconcilable with Mr Clegg’s version than the Claimant’s.  There is thus, to put it no higher, a substantial chance that the Judge would have reached a different conclusion if they had been admitted in evidence. 

 

20. The crucial question is thus whether the Judge was entitled to refuse to allow the file to be put in evidence.  It is a pity that he does not refer to the ruling in his Reasons: judges should always be aware that a significant procedural ruling in the course of a hearing may give rise to a ground of appeal and that this Tribunal will wish to know what the reasons for it were.  It is perhaps also a pity that the opportunity was not taken on the sift to ask the Judge for his reasons.  However, it is reasonably clear from Mr Clegg’s note that the reason was that GM had not supplied copies of the documents to the parties in question in advance. 

 

21. In my judgment the Judge’s decision not to allow the documents to be admitted so late in the day was within his discretion.  An order for disclosure of documents had been made, albeit in rather unsatisfactory terms, three months previously: see para. 8 above.  GM knew precisely what the issues were: the relevance of the documents was obvious, and some had indeed been referred to, explicitly or implicitly, in Mr Clegg’s witness statement.  So there was no excuse (subject to the point I consider at para. 22) for their late production.  If they had been allowed to be admitted so late, there was a real risk of prejudice to the other parties.  Although the documents were not voluminous, the task of the parties in trying to reconcile them – there and then - with the Claimant’s letter and witness statement and with Mr Clegg’s witness statement would not have been straightforward; it has to be borne in mind that the Claimant was unrepresented.  Mr Grant submitted to me that if it would really have been unfair to expect the parties to digest the documents on the spot the Judge should have directed an adjournment.  It is not in fact clear that Mr Clegg suggested this at the time; but, whether he did or not, the hearing had already been adjourned once, and given the amounts at stake and the value of tribunal time it was reasonable to take the view that the costs occasioned by a further adjournment would be disproportionate.

 

22. The difficulty about the late production of the documents is tacitly acknowledged in the Notice of Appeal, where Mr Clegg makes a point of pleading that privilege had only been waived “days prior to the hearing” and that as a result GM was unable to lodge the file in advance of the hearing (paras. 6.3 (1) and (2)).  Unhelpfully, however, he does not address the question in his witness statement lodged for the purpose of this appeal – nor indeed is it clear whether he made the same point to the Judge.  Mr Grant told me on instructions that it was only on 1 May that Mr Clegg had had a telephone conversation with the Claimant in which he confirmed that he was happy for the file to be produced at the hearing.  Even if I were prepared to proceed on this unsatisfactory evidential basis, that is not a good excuse.  It was clear ever since the Claimant had served his witness statement in October that privilege had been waived, and it was unnecessary for GM to seek further confirmation.  But even if they took the view that some further confirmation was required, it is not clear why they waited till 1 May – and even then they still had ten days in which to supply a copy of the file to the other parties and to the Tribunal. 

 

23. I accordingly reject this ground of appeal.  I do so with some regret since the correspondence and attendance notes, though far from being models of their kind, do appear to show GM in a less bad light than they appeared to the Judge.  But it was entirely their own fault that these materials were not put before the Judge in good time. 

 

(2) ALLOWING  RESPONDENT TO CROSS-EXAMINE AND MAKE SUBMISSIONS

 

24. In Ridehalgh v. Horsefield [1994] Ch 205 the Court of Appeal gave guidance about the proper approach to applications for wasted costs orders in the High Court; and that guidance was subsequently approved by the House of Lords in Medcalf v Mardell [2003] 1 AC 120.  It has since been said on more than one occasion that the guidance given in Ridehalgh should be followed mutatis mutandis in considering applications under rule 48: see Mitchells v Funkwerk Information Technologies York Ltd (UKEAT/541/07) and Ratcliffe Duce and Gammer v Binns (UKEAT/100/08). 

 

25. In Ratcliffe Duce and Gammer the Employment Judge had treated an application for wasted costs as if it were governed by rule 40.  At para. 14 Elias P. said this:

 

“Nobody had their eye on the ball. As a consequence she also adopted the wrong procedure. She allowed the Respondent's solicitors to submit comments upon the Appellant's representations to her. That is not an appropriate procedure to adopt when a wasted costs order is made. The Tribunal should give the representative a reasonable opportunity to make oral or written submissions as to why the order should not be made (rule 48 (7)). But whilst the other party may apply for an order - although the issue can exceptionally be raised by the Tribunal at its own initiative - it does not thereafter comment on the submissions, and it will never be appropriate for the receiving party to cross examine the representative against whom the order is being considered.

 

It is GM’s case that in entertaining the Respondent’s submissions on the wasted costs issue (as Mr Clegg’s note shows that he did), and a fortiori in allowing Mr Clegg to be cross-examined by Mr Chapman, the Judge was plainly acting contrary to what Elias P says in that passage. 

 

26. I am bound to say that I cannot see why as a matter of principle there should be any such general rule as Elias P appears to propound in Ratcliffe Duce and Gammer.  As regards the making of submissions, it is standard practice in the context of other kinds of issue for one party to be able to comment on the other party’s submissions; and I do not see what is different about a wasted costs application.  This aspect of the judgment in Ratcliffe has already been questioned in this Tribunal.  In Wilsons Solicitors v Johnson (UKEAT/0515/10), referring to this passage we said:

 

In fact, we venture to doubt whether ... that is an absolute rule.  Elias P’s observation was made in the context of a case where the solicitor against whom the order was sought had not been present at the final hearing of the case and was therefore invited to make written representations as to why an order should not be made.  It is easy to see why the other party should not in those circumstances be allowed the last word.  In a case like the present, where the issue is decided at a hearing, some flexibility is appropriate.”  

 

As for cross-examination of the representative against whom costs are sought, no doubt in most circumstances this will be inappropriate and/or unnecessary and/or disproportionate.  But in a case like the present, where the representative is no longer acting for the party, where privilege has already been waived, where an oral hearing has been fixed and where the party and the representative have given different accounts of facts which may be central to the issue before the tribunal, cross-examination would seem a fair and proportionate way of helping it to get to the right result.

 

27. Mr Grant was not able to suggest a principled basis for any such absolute rule.  He did, however, refer me to a passage in the judgment of the Court in Ridehalgh, at pp. 239-240, which reads as follows: 

 

Procedure

 

The procedure to be followed in determining applications for wasted costs must be laid down by courts so as to meet the requirements of the individual case before them. The overriding requirements are that any procedure must be fair and that it must be as simple and summary as fairness permits. Fairness requires that any respondent lawyer should be very clearly told what he is said to have done wrong and what is claimed. But the requirement of simplicity and summariness means that elaborate pleadings should in general be avoided. No formal process of discovery will be appropriate. We cannot imagine circumstances in which the applicant should be permitted to interrogate the respondent lawyer, or vice versa. Hearings should be measured in hours, and not in days or weeks. Judges must not reject a weapon which Parliament has intended to be used for the protection of those injured by the unjustifiable conduct of the other side's lawyers, but they must be astute to control what threatens to become a new and costly form of satellite litigation.”

 

The specific points made in that passage do not assist.  The Court of Appeal says nothing about the party seeking the order having no right to make submissions.  Nor does it say anything about cross-examination: in context, the reference to “interrogating” the representative is clearly to administering paper interrogatories.  The real point being made is that the procedure should be as summary as is consistent with fairness; and in that context the Court deprecates the deployment of elaborate procedures.  It might on that basis have been open to one or more of the parties to submit to the Judge that he should not hear oral evidence at all – from either the Claimant or Mr Clegg – and simply have made a broad-brush assessment on the basis of their statements.  I am not in fact sure that it would have been right for the Judge to accede to such a submission in the circumstances of this case; but the real point is that it was not made, and that all parties proceeded on the basis that an oral hearing, with live evidence, was required.  In those circumstances I can see nothing wrong in the evidence being tested in cross-examination. 

 

28. I therefore reject this ground of appeal.  If that means that I am differing from the view expressed by Elias P. in Ratcliffe Duce and Gammer I do so with diffidence; but I note that his observations were on any view obiter and were made in the context of a very different procedural situation. 

 

(3) LACK OF REFERENCE TO THE CASE-LAW

 

29. Mr Grant pointed out that, as noted at para. 13 (2) above, the Judge did not refer to any of the authorities on wasted costs, and indeed he told me on instructions that neither representative referred him to any such authority.  That does not reflect well on either Mr Clegg or Mr Chapman, who should have made it their business to draw the Judge’s attention to the key authorities.  But it only matters if the omission led to him misdirecting himself.  As to that, Mr Grant identified a number of points made in the authorities identified above (and also Persaud v Persaud [2003] EWCA Civ 394).  But most of them are not germane to the Judge’s actual reasoning as I have sought to analyse it at para. 15 above.  To recap, that reasoning was that when it became clear that settlement was not available GM did not promptly advise the Claimant about his position, and even when he made it clear that he could not continue they failed to implement those instructions.  I can accordingly deal with Mr. Grant’s points briefly.

 

30. First, he contended that for a solicitor to pursue even a weak case with a view to achieving a settlement is not in itself improper or unreasonable.  I agree, but the eventual order was not made on the basis that that was what GM had done.

 

31. Secondly, he contended that GM’s failure to comply with the procedural directions did not cause any appreciable costs.  That may be so, but again that failure was not the basis of the Judge’s reasoning.  The failure to ensure that the claim was withdrawn sooner plainly did put the Respondent to very substantial expense.

 

32. Thirdly, Mr. Grant submitted that the failings relied on by the Judge were at most a breach of GM’s duty to the Claimant rather than a breach of its duty to the tribunal.  In this regard, he relied in particular on Persaud (above), where the Court of Appeal noted and endorsed an observation in Ridehalgh that “the applicant's right to a wasted costs order against a legal representative depends on showing that the latter is in breach of his duty to the court” (see at para. 22).  But the conduct found by the Judge, as analysed at para. 15 above, did amount to a breach of duty to the tribunal.  It is plainly an abuse of process for a claim to be proceeded with which the claimant no longer wishes to pursue; and on the Judge’s findings it was GM’s fault that that occurred in the present case.  I accept that it might in this context be possible to distinguish between a mere failure promptly to advise the Claimant once “the writing was on the wall” and a disregard of a positive statement by him that he could not proceed: only at the latter point, it might be said, did GM owe a duty “to promote the cause of justice”, as it is put in Ridehalgh at p. 227D (summarising the effect of Myers v Elman [1940] AC 282).  But although it seems on the basis of the Claimant’s witness statement (which may not however reflect his oral evidence) that he may not have made his position absolutely explicit until late June, the distinction is unlikely to be very significant as regards quantum and Mr Grant took no point on it. 

 

34. Mr Grant submitted that there was evidence that, whatever advice had been given, the Claimant would have continued until the last minute in any event.  But that is a question of fact.  The Judge, having heard the Claimant’s oral evidence, did not take that view.

 

CONCLUSION

 

35. This appeal has not been as straightforward as it should have been because of the difficulty in distinguishing the Judge’s wider criticisms of GM, not all of which may be sustainable (at least if read literally), from the actual basis on which he made his order.  But appeals ought not to succeed because the way in which a Judge has expressed himself is unsatisfactory, particularly in a decision which was delivered orally, if the dispositive reasoning can be identified and is sound.  In the end I have concluded, albeit not without hesitation, that it is possible to discern proper reasons underlying the decision in the present case.  The essential point is that the Judge preferred the Claimant’s evidence to Mr Clegg’s about the advice and instructions which passed between them once it had become clear that the case was not going to settle – and in particular, though not only, his evidence about when he made it clear that he wished to withdraw.  It is not raised as a ground of appeal that that was a conclusion that was not open to him on the evidence which he heard, or that the reasons given for his preference were inadequate.  The only relevant challenge is on the basis that the Judge would have reached a different conclusion if he had had the evidence of the full file: however, as to that, I have held that he was entitled to refuse to admit that evidence.  I accordingly dismiss the appeal.

 

FURTHER OBSERVATIONS

 

36. In my experience wasted costs orders too often generate arguable grounds of appeal.  The circumstances in which such orders fall to be made, or to be considered, are very varied, and I do not propose to try to give comprehensive guidance; but I would venture to say something about some problem areas apparent from recent cases.

 

(1) Reference to authority.  Save in the most straightforward case it will always be wise for the tribunal in its consideration of a wasted costs order to be reminded, and where there is no professional representation to remind itself, not only of the terms of rule 48 but also of the guidance given by the Court of Appeal at pp. 226-239 of the judgment in Ridehalgh; and to refer to the relevant aspects in its Reasons.  I emphasise relevant aspects.  Judges should certainly not feel obliged to try to summarise every part of the discussion in Ridehalgh, not all of which is in any event applicable in the tribunal context.  But, for instance, in a case which turns on whether certain conduct was “improper, unreasonable or negligent” it will always be healthy for the Tribunal to be reminded of the discussion at pp. 232-233, or in a case which depends on an allegation that the claim was hopeless to bear in mind the passage at pp. 233-234.  (Sometimes of course reference to other authorities, such as Medcalf v Mardell, may be helpful; but I am concerned here only with the basics.)  Tribunals must of course avoid confusion between the principles applying to applications for “ordinary” costs under rule 40 and for wasted costs under rule 48: Ratcliffe Duce and Gammer is an example of an egregious failure in this regard.

 

(2) Three-stage test.  One particular aspect of the guidance in Ridehalgh which it is always good to follow explicitly is the approach endorsed at p. 231 F-G, namely:

 

“(1)   Has the legal representative of whom complaint is made acted improperly, unreasonably or negligently?

 

(2) If so, did such conduct cause the applicant to incur unnecessary costs?

 

(3) If so, is it in all the circumstances just to order the legal representative to compensate the applicant for the whole or any part of the relevant costs?”

 

(3) Procedure.  As the Court of Appeal emphasised in Ridehalgh (p. 238 B-D and G), the right procedure for determining claims for wasted costs will depend on the circumstances of the particular case.  Proportionality is an important consideration.  The only essential is that the representative has a reasonable opportunity to make representations as to whether an order should be made.  This does not necessarily mean a formal two-stage procedure - see Wilsons (above), at para. 29.  It may well, however, in a particular case mean that an application for wasted costs cannot be dealt with in the same hearing as that in which the application is made.  Tribunals will often understandably wish to deal with such applications there and then, in the interests of economy.  I sympathise with that approach: unnecessary hearings on satellite issues are to be avoided wherever possible, and in a straightforward case there will be a lot to be said for striking while the iron is hot.  But sometimes that will simply not be fair, and the representative will be entitled to more time to make representations (though not necessarily at a further hearing).  A recent case in which this point arose, though it was not decisive, is Jackson v Cambridgeshire County Council (UKEAT/0402/09) - see at para. 28, which also makes the point that where an application cannot be fairly resolved without disproportionate investigation it can be dismissed on that basis alone.  (The same point about the appropriate procedure depending on the nature of the issues is made by the Court of Appeal in Gill v Humanware Europe plc [2010] EWCA Civ 799, which concerned a wasted costs order made in this Tribunal: see esp. per Smith LJ at para. 31.  It is interesting to note that the Court was divided as to whether fairness required an oral hearing in the circumstances of the particular case.)  As the Court of Appeal said in Ridehalgh (at p. 238G), although the procedure must be as simple and summary as possible, that can only be so far as fairness permits.  Applications for wasted costs orders will often involve not only quite large sums but also what may be very serious criticisms of the representative’s competence or conduct which may have serious repercussions for him or her, and which cannot be properly addressed ex improviso.  Judges should resist the temptation to treat wasted costs issues as in every case matters of ancillary significance that can be dealt with on the hoof.  

 

(4) Privilege.  In any case where privilege has not been waived the tribunal must give full weight to the warnings in Ridehalgh at pp. 236-7 and ought always to make clear that it has done so.  However, it will not always be necessary for a tribunal to consider privileged material in order to decide whether a representative is at fault (cf. Wilsons (above)). 

 

(5) Reasons.  The amount of detail required in the written Reasons in relation to a wasted costs order (which are mandatory if sought in time – see rule 48 (9)) will of course vary enormously.  But, as I have already observed, the issues will sometimes be important and will not always be straightforward, and in such cases thorough treatment will be required.  Wasted costs orders are also disproportionately likely to generate appeals, so that this Tribunal will need to have a clear account of the tribunal’s reasoning.

 

37. In emphasising, as I have, the care with which applications need to be approached, I do not wish at all to discourage tribunals from making wasted costs orders in an appropriate case.  Despite the various cautions and caveats about its use, the weapon of the wasted costs order is a valuable one, which the rule-maker intended should be used in proper cases.  The need to observe the essential requirements of a fair procedure and good reasons need not involve undue formality or elaboration and should not operate as a deterrent.


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