The Guideline Hourly Rates (GHR) are to remain at their 2010 levels indefinitely after the Master of the Rolls decided there was no prospect of the evidence required being produced in order to change them.
Last July, following a year-long study by the Civil Justice Council’s Costs Committee, the MR concluded that there were “fundamental” shortcomings in the evidence that was available to amend the rates. He said he would seek “urgent discussions” with the Law Society and the government to see what steps could be taken to obtain more detailed information.
However, in a note published last week, Lord Dyson said: “These discussions… have not made any material change to the position I was placed in last July – there is no funding available from any source for undertaking the sort of in-depth survey which the CJC’s Costs Committee and its expert advisers consider is required to produce an adequate evidence base.
“There is also considerable doubt that, even if such funds were forthcoming, there would be sufficient numbers of firms willing to participate and provide the level of detailed data required to enable the committee (and myself in turn) to produce accurate and reasonable GHRs.”
Lord Dyson went on to say that the GHRs are becoming “less and less relevant” for several reasons, including “advances in technology and business practices and models”, “the ever-increasing sub-specialisation of the law which is seeing the market increasingly dictate rates in some fields (particularly commercial law)”, “the judiciary’s use of proportionality as a driving principle in assessing costs, and the greater application of costs budgeting”.
The MR did recognise that the GHRs are still widely used as a reference tool in summary and detailed assessments as well as budgeting, and as a measure for smaller law firms “to base practice charges on and to demonstrate to clients a national benchmark”.
He concluded: “I am not, therefore, suggesting that the existing GHRs no longer apply. The existing rates will, therefore, remain in force for the foreseeable future and will remain a component in the assessment of costs, along with the application by the judiciary of proportionality and costs management.”
As a result, arguments concerning appropriate hourly rates to be allowed in current cases are therefore likely to remain with us for some considerable time.