Chief Legal Costs Adjudicator Paul Behan has said there was a significant increase in the workload of his office last year, its first full year of operation.
The Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicators (OLCA) was set up under the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, with the aim of modernising the system of determining legal costs, and making the process more transparent.
Its annual report shows that 830 cases were filed with the office last year – 585 through its electronic platform. This represents an increase of around 38% from 2019, when the figure included some cases transferred after the abolition of the Taxing Masters Office. It also dealt with 105 cases carried over from 2019.
Half of cases settled
The total claimed in these 1,005 cases was almost €147 million. Almost €30 million of this was linked to 77 medical negligence cases, and almost €16 million associated with 200 road-traffic accidents.
Just over half of the cases received in 2020 were settled between the parties, while 10% were determined and concluded. Most of the remaining cases were adjourned pending further hearings, or were subject to further mediation or negotiation.
In the 101 cases where the office made a determination, it allowed costs totalling almost €6.4 million – a reduction of 35% on the €9.7 million claimed.
The office points out, however, that this does not suggest that 35% of all the costs claimed were unreasonable.
In the report, Mr Behan says that, despite disruption caused by COVID-19 restrictions, the office continued to make determinations. During the year, it developed a platform to enable hearings to take place remotely.
The OLCA has signalled that a new weekly remote call-over of cases, which it says has acted as a valuable case-management tool, will continue after the pandemic.
The office says its response to the pandemic enabled it to reduce waiting times for adjudication applications to 11 weeks by the end of the year. The figure had climbed to 16 weeks after physical sittings were suspended.
The body is aiming to improve its searchable online register of determinations this year, in an effort to provide more transparency on legal costs.