In Weisz v Weisz & Ors, Mr Justice Francis was hearing an application for interim provision pursuant to section 5 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

The hearing was listed for two hours but ended up lasting a day. The judge said: ‘I should say, so that counsel are aware, that in most of these cases where the time estimate is obviously hopeless, it is very likely that they will be sent out without having been heard, however urgent the case may be, unless of course it is urgent in the sense of relating to the welfare of, or danger to, a child. However, we have been lucky today in that one of the cases that was listed was not effective.’

The judge expressed concern, ‘if not astonishment’, at the level of costs for the application.

‘The claimant’s costs – and this is just for today and not the claim overall – are just over £18,000. The costs of the third and fourth defendants, who are two of the children of the deceased, are £37,880. Remarkably, I am told that the executors of the estate do not even know what their costs of today are, and I should say that if any of the lawyers in this court appear in front of me again not knowing what their costs are for the application in front of me, I will have a lot more to say about it than I have done today,’ he said.

‘But, if I take the executors’ costs as being the same as the claimant’s (and I note that the claimant has instructed – I hope I can say this without any disrespect – much less expensive solicitors than the third and fourth defendants), then that means that the overall costs of today are in the order of £74,000.’

Set in the context of the total amount being claimed by the claimant – a £75,000 lump sum and £8,511 a month, ‘it cannot be proportionate for so much money to be spent on this issue and it is very sad indeed that the parties have been unable to settle today’s application’.

The judge stressed that he was not criticizing anyone in particular, but hoped the parties reflected on the fact that ‘

if this were a commercial deal rather than a family row, they would not have spent this amount of money on this litigation because it would not be commercially sensible to do so, and the only way they are going to settle this litigation – whether it be next week or some time next year – rather than fight the case, the only way they are going to do so is by standing back and taking a commercial view, on advice’.

The judge also highlighted the benefits of private family dispute resolution or mediation.

Family case

In the judgment of Crowther v Crowther & Ors the judge criticised both parties and their lawyers for a lack of co-operation resulting in “enormous” legal costs.

Mr Justice Peel stated that there had been an “almost complete breakdown of constructive communication” between the divorcing husband and wife during proceedings. It was noted that  the couple made a total of 41 statements and the case had 34 hearings. The bundles were also said to exceed 6,000 pages and the parties have argued “almost every imaginable issue, no matter how trivial”.

The total costs amounted to £2.3 million (of which £1.4 million was for the wife’s legal costs and £900,000 for the husband), and have now eradicated the couple’s estimated £1.75 million in assets. The debt must now be divided fairly between the couple, said the judge.

The court heard that the wife had agreed with her lawyers that unless they received all outstanding fees and costs to the end of the trial they would cease to act. A further ultimatum was issued when the wife applied for release of £500,000 from the sale of a marital asset, with her lawyers again saying they would cease to act without payment.

The judge commented that:

“Given that W’s solicitors had already received from W in total (divorce, non-molestation, children, and financial remedy proceedings) costs exceeding £1m, and given that more than £1.8m remained in the joint account holding the proceeds of sale which would be available for distribution at trial, it might be thought rather unattractive for W’s solicitors to adopt this position.”

The judge then ordered a release of £300,000 and the wife’s solicitors continued to act.

Mr Justice Peel observed that the proceedings were “intensely acrimonious” and that each party thought the other was “out to destroy” them.

“They, and their lawyers, have adopted a bitterly fought adversarial approach … I asked myself on a number of occasions whether the aggressive approach adopted by each side has achieved anything; it seems to me that it has led to vast costs and reduced scope for settlement”

Mr Justice Peel then concluded:

“The only beneficiaries of this nihilistic litigation have been the specialist and high-quality lawyers. The main losers are probably the children who, quite apart from the emotional pain of seeing their parents involved in such bitter proceedings, will be deprived of monies which I am sure their parents would otherwise have wanted them to benefit from in due course.”

Extraordinary Costs

The High Court has expressed its despair at solicitors conducting litigation “like schoolchildren in the playground”, as well as “pernicious” growth of satellite costs disputes.

The judge described the case of Crypto Open Patent Alliance v Wright[2022] EWHC 242 (Ch) as an example of “bad-tempered litigation, which is regrettably becoming more and more prevalent in the English courts”.

The judge was deciding the costs of two preliminary hearings, which largely went in the Claimant’s favour.

The judge described as “a recurring, but highly undesirable, feature of modern litigation” that litigants were willing to argue create costly satellite litigation arguing every aspect of costs.

The judge suggested that the conduct of business relations has become “so legalised, that many businesspeople see litigation, not as a means of resolving disputes… but as one of obtaining leverage in further negotiations. It is thus simply a modern aspect of doing business”.

He added: “To mangle Von Clausewitz, litigation has become the continuation of business by other means. This is highly regrettable, not least because there are many other litigants who play by the rules and are disadvantaged as a result.”

The claimant sought £123,000 in costs for a one-day hearing, which HHJ Matthews described as “extraordinarily high”.

Even though each side “apparently has a lot of money to spend” and considered the litigation “worth the candle”, HHJ Matthews said: “At the end of the day I have to reach an objective decision based on the rules that apply to everyone’s disputes, from prince to pauper, and whether conducted by City mega-firm or high street sole practitioner.”

The costs claimed were not proportionate, reasonably incurred or a reasonable amount, due to insufficient delegation of work down to less expensive fee-earners too much time spent on the evidence, and excessive attendance at the hearing.

He reduced the costs to £70,000.

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