Court Upholds Legal Right to Reliance on Prior Authority for Disbursements in R v Hakim Appeal

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3129 (SCCO)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of R v Hakim, adjudicated by Costs Judge Rowley in the High Court of Justice Senior Courts Costs Office, focuses on an appeal against a determination made by a legal aid officer concerning the reimbursement of disbursement costs related to translation and transcription services. This case elucidates the procedures of obtaining prior authorisation for such services under the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013, and the consequences of adhering to the scope of work authorised.

Key Facts

Stewart Begum Solicitors appealed a decision by a determining officer regarding disbursements claimed under the Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme. Their client, Lokman Hakim, required translation and transcription services for evidence crucial to his defence in a criminal trial. The defendant’s solicitors requested prior authority from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) to incur expenses for these services, which was urgently granted during the trial. However, despite prior authorisation for a specific amount reflecting the estimated effort for correction, the determining officer later only allowed reimbursement for the literal length of the recordings translated, resulting in a significantly lower amount than what was anticipated and incurred based on prior authority.

The core legal principles at play in this case include the proper interpretation and application of regulations for prior authorisation of disbursements:

  1. Regulation 13 of the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 defines the steps a litigator must take to apply for prior authority from the Lord Chancellor for costs that appear necessary for the proper conduct of proceedings in the Crown Court.

  2. Regulation 17 outlines the determination of litigators’ disbursements, specifying that authorised costs must have been reasonably incurred and that no question as to their propriety may be raised once prior authority is obtained, unless the litigator knew or should have known the purpose for which the authority was given had become redundant.

  3. The Principle of Reliance on Prior Authority asserted in this case upholds that once an authorisation for disbursement is granted following a request that includes a clear scope of work, the litigator should be able to rely upon the reimbursement of the expenses incurred according to the granted authority.

Judge Rowley applied these principles and concluded that the determining officer had misinterpreted the nature of the disbursement by treating it solely as a transcription fee when the work involved both translation and transcription, the latter involving an expertise critique of previously translated material.

Outcomes

The appeal was successful on the grounds that the determining officer did not correctly apply Regulation 17 after a prior authority was granted. Costs Judge Rowley ordered full payment of the disbursement as originally authorised, along with an additional sum for costs and the amount paid on appeal. This outcome reaffirms the binding nature of a prior authority and the litigator’s right to rely on it once granted, without it being second-guessed by another part of the LAA under the usual guidelines.

Conclusion

In R v Hakim, the High Court of Justice Senior Courts Costs Office decisively upheld the principle that prior authority, when granted by the LAA, should be reliably fulfiled without retroactive reappraisal excluding compelling reasons. This reinforces the importance of clear and detailed submissions when requesting prior authority and serves as a reminder that the purpose and particulars of an authorisation must be respected to ensure fairness and proper reimbursement of incurred costs aligned with the authorisation’s intent.

Related Summaries