Understanding the Law
February 11, 2005
How much will my legal matter cost?

I will take a break from the criminal court to discuss with you some aspects of costs. When you need legal advice the first thought that comes to mind is the cost for that advice. It is not the end of the world so get a lawyer of your choice and discus the matter with him/her. You would need to make an appointment. This could be done by the telephone or by visiting a lawyer’s office/chambers. {{more}}

The names of lawyers are given in the yellow pages of the telephone directory. Most of the lawyers are located in Kingstown not far from the High Court. Some lawyers have a walk-in policy and you may be able to see one with out making an appointment. Consultation fees are normally charged on an hourly basis unless the lawyer waives the fees. The lawyer should be able to advise you whether to go to court or not.

You must make sure that you discuss the cost on your first visit to avoid any misunderstanding later on. Many lawyers do not consider that they are properly retained (employed) unless an initial payment is made. In some matters and especially if it is a case for the recovery of a sum of money some lawyers may wait until you recover. You must remember that if your case goes to court and you succeed then it is most likely that the other side will be responsible for your costs.

The Bar Association has worked out some guidelines for fees for a variety of in-chambers and civil matters not covered by the New Civil Procedure Rules. Of the different categories of lawyers the Queen’s Counsel is retained at a higher cost than the others. The junior is paid the lowest. There are no standard rates for criminal matters and fees are usually worked out between client and lawyer. Those lawyers who represent defendants in homicide (murder) cases are paid standard fees by the government.

The lawyers have no control over costs in civil matters that are adjudicated in the High court and the Court of appeal. The judge in the matter will order cost based on the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR2000). Cost is generally awarded to the successful party. That is the unsuccessful party pays the successful party but if the judge has discretion he/she could order the winner to pay part of the cost. This however is a rare occurrence.

Costs consist of the legal practitioner’s charges (fees) and disbursements. Disbursements are those expenses incurred by the practitioner in bringing the case before the courts and include filing fees, fees for expert witness and stationery among others.

Costs could be fixed costs, prescribed costs, budgeted costs or assessed costs. I will deal with fixed cost and prescribed cost below. Fixed costs are the lawyer’s charges for a claim that has resulted in a default judgment for a specified sum of money or for recovery of land. The rules provide a scale of fees with respect to fixed costs. At the bottom of the scale is the cost of $750 where the sum involved is between $5000 and $15,000. At the top of the scale is costs of $2500 for matters involving a sum of $500 000 and over. You gave your friend a loan of $10 000 she fails to repay it. You take the matter to court. The claim form and accompanying documents were served on her but she refused to respond. You should be able to recover the lawyer’s charges of $750 plus the disbursement and the sum owing.

Prescribed costs are the costs for cases that are started but concluded before trial and those which went through a trial in court. A scale of fees is given in Appendix B of Part 65 of CPR2000 and cost is worked out on a cumulative basis (future article). Cost is dependent on the monetary value of the case itself. If the case does not have a monetary value then the court could place a value.