Birmingham hosts national conference on litigation costs

Speakers and delegates at the Birmingham Law Society conference

More than 130 lawyers from around the country attended a national debate and conference in Birmingham on Lord Justice Jackson’s Report on Civil Litigation Costs. 

Lord Justice Jackson lead an esteemed panel of high-profile speakers at the event, which was arranged by Birmingham Law Society and hosted by The College of Law in Birmingham.

The English civil litigation system is widely regarded as the Rolls-Royce of legal systems, but with a price tag to match. The costs are regarded by many, including Jackson, as disproportionate and an impediment to justice.

Jackson’s report is currently under review by the government and is expected to result in a complete overhaul in the way litigation costs operate in England and Wales, particularly for small to medium claims.

His recommendations include scrapping referral fees, making success fees and after the event (ATE) insurance premiums irrecoverable, fixed costs for fast track cases up to £25,000, and the introduction of contingency fees.

Lord Justice Jackson is not without critics, however.  Some feel his proposals favour defendants; personal injury lawyers and claimants are also expected to come out of the review badly.

According to Dean Parnell, President of Birmingham Law Society, conference delegates witnessed some fairly heated exchanges between the panellists, who included Nick Starling of the Association of British Insurers; Ed Pepperell of St Philips Chambers; Anthony Hughes, past president of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers; Crispin Passmore, strategic director of the Legal Services Board; John Spencer, chairman of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society; Dr Mark Friston of Kings Chambers and author of ‘Civil Costs Law and Practice’ and Michael Lent, underwriting director at Temple Legal Protection Ltd.

Mr Parnell said: “The panel was made up from a distinguished line-up of experts from both sides of the litigation fence and credit must be given to Birmingham Law Society’s Dispute Resolution Committee who put together this event.

“As you would expect, there was a wide divergence of opinion and in particular clear disagreement on the abolition of referral fees, the impact of the introduction of qualified one way cost shifting whereby a losing defendant pays the claimant’s costs but a losing claimant results in each side bearing their own, capped success fees and the removal of the ability to recover ATE insurance premiums.

“It was a real feather in Birmingham’s cap to bring together such an esteemed team of experts on an issue of national importance for our profession. It cements our position as the major legal centre outside London and ensures that Birmingham Law Society and our city is seen as an obvious centre for these types of debates/discussions.”

The day’s proceedings were chaired by Joshua Rozenberg, Britain’s best-known commentator on the law and presenter of the BBC Radio 4 series Law in Action. He is a regular on the BBC news channel, Sky News and the One Show, and a contributor to a number of legal publications.

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