SCCO Appeal Ruling Emphasizes Importance of Grade B Fee Earners in Analyzing Complex Electronic Evidence

Citation: [2023] EWHC 2926 (SCCO)
Judgment on


In the case of R v Stephen Hart & Ors: [2023] EWHC 2926 (SCCO), the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) examined an appeal related to the legal fees claimed by solicitors who represented the defendants in a multi-defendant criminal conspiracy case. The key issues revolved around the significant volume of electronic evidence, the allocation of time spent by different grades of fee earners, and the reasonableness of that time allocation, in line with the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013.

Key Facts

The appeal in question originated from a criminal case wherein Stephen Hart, Conrad Deprose, and Mark Scarborough were charged with involvement in a drug supply conspiracy and other related offences. The case was characterized by a substantial amount of evidence, particularly electronic communications, which required analysis by the defendant’s legal team.

Counsel for the Appellant—a law firm that represented the defendants—contested the time allocated for special preparation, which was originally set at 360 hours by the Determining Officer. This included 320 hours at Grade C and 40 hours at Grade B. The Appellant claimed a total of 1,893 hours at Grade B time.

The electronic evidence included thousands of pages from the ‘Encrochat’ encrypted communication system and other unencrypted devices, which posed an analytical challenge as to the involvement of each defendant due to the use of codenames and slang within the communications.

The legal principles applied in this appeal are drawn from the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013, particularly concerning the remuneration for special preparation in complex cases. The judgement scrutinized the principles concerning the roles of Grade B and Grade C fee earners in analyzing large volumes of evidence.

The court sought to balance the need for a thorough defense with the principles of reasonable and proportionate allocation of legal resources. It acknowledged that the initial searches of evidence could be conducted by Grade C fee earners, whereas subsequent detailed analysis of that narrowed-down evidence, requiring more experience and expertise, could be carried out by Grade B fee earners.

The Costs Judge found it necessary to consider the nature of the conspiracy and the sophisticated means the defendants used to evade detection, which justified the involvement of higher-grade fee earners to ascertain context and interpret the slang and obfuscated references.


Costs Judge Nagalingam allowed the appeal in part, acknowledging the necessity of involvement by fee earners with experience for interpreting the evidence. The court held that while Grade C fee earners were capable of narrowing down relevant materials using search terms, Grade B fee earners were better suited for in-depth analysis, especially given the use of obfuscation and jargon by the organized crime group involved.

As a result, the Judge adjusted the allocation by authorizing a higher portion of time — 400 hours at Grade B, up from the initially allowed 40 hours, while maintaining the 320 hours at Grade C, and awarded additional costs to cover the appeal.


R v Stephen Hart & Ors demonstrates the challenges involved in cases with voluminous and complex electronic evidence. The SCCO’s detailed analysis reaffirms the importance of adequate and appropriate fee earner grading in legal cost calculations. By addressing this balance, the court’s decision aligns with the principles of fair remuneration under the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013, also ensuring efficiency and proportionality in legal representation costs. This judgment serves as guidance on how courts may handle similar appeals on costs in complex criminal cases.