The master of the rolls has confirmed that guideline hourly rates will increase from 1 January as part of wider costs reforms.
Sir Geoffrey Vos announced today that he would endorse all the recommendations of the Civil Justice Council’s review on costs which was published in May. That will mean that the 2021 guideline hourly rates will be uplifted for inflation from next year, in accordance with the consumer price index.
Vos will also establish a further working group to establish the methodology underpinning future guideline hourly rates.
On costs budgeting, Vos accepted that ‘one size does not necessarily fit all’ and he would ask the Civil Procedure Rule Committee to pilot a scheme to apply different approaches between different areas of civil justice. The costs review recommended a ‘tailored approach’ to costs management to suit different types and/or venues of work, and this is likely to tested in selected courts next year.
Vos, speaking at the Civil Justice Council’s National Forum, also expressed his hope that the Solicitors Act 1974 may be looked at again ‘in a short time’, following several recent judgments that have revolved around the legislation. The master of the rolls said the costs implications of the act require what he called a ‘generational look’.
Vos further looked ahead to Monday’s relaunch of the new Online Procedure Rule Committee which he said represented an ‘exciting opportunity to revitalise access to justice’.
Speaking at the same event, lord chancellor Alex Chalk endorsed the government’s recent extension of fixed recoverable costs for most civil claims up to £100,000.
He said the extension had been a ‘boost to access to justice at proportionate cost’ and addressed one of the main drawbacks of civil justice, namely the uncertainty around how much litigants will have to pay. He added that it would act as a deterrent to costs being increased in the expectation that they would be recoverable at the end of a case, providing ‘clarity and transparency’ for clients.
Chalk continued: ‘I know there are concerns about the impact of these reforms on the ability to pursue some cases – namely at the level at which the costs have been set. The figures for the costs were based on data analysis and consultation and we have uprated them for inflation and I can confirm that we will do so again from April next year. We will continue to keep the regime under review.’
Asked whether this task might in future be given to judges or other people outside of government, Chalk said this was something that ‘temperamentally really appeals to me’ and would be considered as a way of keeping costs ‘stable and proportionate’.