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High Court judge rejects challenge to £317 hourly rate allowed for council lawyers in housing dispute

A High Court has rejected a challenge to the Supreme Court costs office’s suggested rate of £317 an hour for assessing lawyers’ time in costs awards even though a freedom of information request submitted by the unsuccessful claimant revealed that it is 7.5 times more than the London Borough of Camden pays its legal staff.

Mr Justice Mostyn's ruling in Kuznetsov, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Camden [2019] EWHC 3910 (Admin), published this week on Bailii, followed an application by a Mr Kuznetsov to set aside a £11,614.20 costs order made in the course of a housing dispute.

The original dispute concerned a failed judicial review of Camden’s decision that Mr Kuznetsov did not qualify for housing under Part 6 of the Housing Act 1996.

Mr Kuznetsov subsequently used FOI legislation to try to establish that Camden would overcharge him for legal work under the costs order.

This revealed that Camden paid legal staff a maximum hourly rate of £41.75.

Counsel for Mr Kuznetsov argued that the FoI response showed the £317 rate in the White Book “wildly exceeds the maximum possible costs that have been incurred by the London Borough of Camden, and that therefore the indemnity principle is being breached”.

This is the principle that cost awards should cover actual costs and not allow a party to profit from these.

But Mr Justice Mostyn said: “Although the argument has been very persuasively put, I do not agree with it.

“The £317 encompasses a great deal more than just the costs, the payroll costs, of the people sitting in the offices of the London Borough of Camden”, extending to buildings, equipment, utilities and other office costs.

He also allowed £950 for the cost of counsel appearing at a permissions hearing as “it is clear that counsel on that occasion did not attend merely as a watching brief, but was an active participant at the permission hearing and succeeded in persuading the judge not to grant permission on a number of grounds”.

But he made no costs order over the hearing of the appeal itself as Camden failed to submit Form N260 to enable summary assessment.

Mostyn J said: “That has not happened… the legal advisers having failed to do so they, having made that bed, must lie in it and they will not get an award of costs. In relation to today there will be no order as to costs”.

Mark Smulian

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