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Association of Law Costs Draftsmen Order 2006

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2006

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen Order 2006. 36th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee (Session 2005-06).

The noble Lord said: This order is presented under Section 29 and Part 1 of Schedule 4 to the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. It will enable qualified Fellows of the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen to exercise limited rights of audience and rights to conduct litigation in England and Wales in connection with legal costs matters. A second order will be laid once this order has been made, extending the Legal Services Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to oversee complaints against costs draftsmen.

The Association of Law Costs Draftsmen is the professional association representing and regulating law costs draftsmen working in England and Wales. Law costs draftsmen work in a small, highly specialised field. They draw up and analyse bills relating to all aspects of legal costs included in solicitors’ bills for cases in all courts. These costs can include the solicitor’s fee, the court fees, barristers’ fees and expert and witness fees.

Preparation of such bills is highly specialised work and is almost always carried out by a costs draftsman rather than a solicitor. Solicitors usually prepare their own bills in only a minority of cases—for example, those straightforward cases where the costs will be paid entirely by the solicitors’ own client and the legal costs are relatively low. Some costs draftsmen are employed full time by solicitors. Others work in partnership, as directors or employees of law costs drafting firms, or as freelancers on a partnership or sole practitioner basis.

Depending on the circumstances of each case, the costs set out in solicitors’ bills, prepared by law costs draftsmen, relate to cases heard in civil, criminal or family courts and will be paid by either the solicitors’ client, the client’s opponent or public funds. Currently, costs draftsmen must seek the judge’s approval to appear at costs hearings on a case by case basis. Members of the public cannot currently instruct a costs draftsman direct. Instructions must be channelled via a solicitor, who will then be responsible for the costs draftsman’s conduct before the judge.

The Association of Law Costs Draftsmen seeks recognition as a body authorised to grant rights to its fellows to conduct litigation on behalf of clients in matters relating to legal costs, and to appear at legal costs hearings in all courts without having to seek the judge’s permission. It wants clients to be able to instruct costs draftsmen direct rather than only via a solicitor. It also wants costs draftsmen to be authorised and regulated by their own professional association in all aspects of their work as law costs draftsmen rather than being under the supervision of solicitors in respect of their conduct at court as at present.

The rights sought will allow the association to grant rights of audience and rights to conduct litigation to suitably qualified fellows in respect of the assessment of the amount of costs payable in all courts and all types of case. This includes family, civil and criminal cases in all courts. It will apply irrespective of who will ultimately pay the legal costs claimed in the solicitors’ bill being assessed. Admittedly, this order will lead to only a small number of law costs draftsmen being able to exercise these rights—some 500 over the next five to 10 years. But, from a competition point of view, it is important that they can do so.

Costs draftsmen will be able to act independently of solicitors in legal costs proceedings. This may simplify access to costs draftsmen’s services and will potentially cut costs by enabling consumers to have direct access to the expertise of costs draftsmen, rather than being obliged to instruct and pay for a solicitor as well. Consumers and costs draftsmen will also benefit from the fact that costs draftsmen will be authorised and regulated directly by their own professional body with its expert knowledge of the specialist area involved, rather than indirectly via solicitors, who are not generally experts in this area.

The Legal Services Ombudsman has been consulted and has confirmed that she is willing for her jurisdiction to be extended to cover complaints against law costs draftsmen. Because of the very small numbers involved, it is anticipated that her office will receive approximately one complaint per year.

These orders have passed through the required statutory approval procedure. In doing so, they have been considered and approved by the Legal Services Consultative Panel, the Office of Fair Trading and the senior judiciary and, as a result, have my full support. If this order is approved, it is anticipated that the Legal Services Bill will be amended to include the ALCD on the list of approved regulators. I now commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen Order 2006. 36th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee (Session 2005-06).—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

We on the Liberal Democrat Benches regard the Association of Law Cost Draftsmen as a respected body which has brought professional discipline to an area that at one time was relatively unregulated. We recognise that law cost draftsmen, particularly those who have been through the qualification provisions provided by this organisation, are often the most competent to conduct litigation, including advocacy in relation to costs. I confess the interest of having been a beneficiary and occasionally the victim of the work of law costs draftsmen, so I can give evidence of their efficacy. Appropriate scrutiny has occurred as provided in Schedule 4 to the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. This is a step forward in providing competitive legal services.

On Question, Motion agreed to.