Prior to commencing proceedings there are a number of issues to consider such as the cause of action, any relevant limitation period, not to mention advising the client of the potential costs consequences. As such it is easy to overlook the more administrative matters such as ensuring that the correct court fee is paid. However a recent decision of the High Court has highlighted the significance of this very issue.
In Lifestyles Equities C.V. and another company v Sportsdirect.com Retail Ltd and others  EWHC 2092 the Claimant had issued proceedings for “registered trade mark infringement and/or inducement of breach of contract.” The majority of the relief was unarguably non-monetary in nature however one paragraph sought “an order for payment of all sums due by way of inquiry as to damages or at the Claimants’ option an account of profits.”
In relation to the value of the claim the Claimants asserted that they were unable to quantify the damage at that stage but in the event that they were successful on liability they undertook to pay the appropriate court fee should a higher fee than had already been paid be required. In light of the nature of the claim the Claimants had paid the fee applicable for a ‘non-money claim,’ being £480. As such, following the CMC when the issue was first raised, the Defendants applied to stay the claims until such time as the appropriate court fee had been paid.
Master Clark made reference to the case of Page v Hewetts Solicitors  EWHC 2845 (Ch) wherein Hildyard J held that an account was a non-money claim. He stated “an account is not simply an assessment of loss or a claim for money; it is a procedure: or in other words, as stated in Ultraframe (UK) Ltd v Fielding & Ors  EWHC 1638 (Ch) at paragraph 513: ‘the taking of an account is the means by which a beneficiary requires a trustee to justify his stewardship of trust property.’” Hildyard J used the analogy of an injunction to further explain his meaning.
The Defendant argued, inter alia, that the Claimants were, in addition to the trade mark infringement claim in which they were seeking an account of profits, also making a separate and freestanding claim for inducing a breach of contract in which they were claiming an inquiry as to damages. They argued that for the purposes of determining the court fee that is payable there was no difference between a claim for a specified amount of damages, for damages to be assessed by the court or for an inquiry as to damages.
Whilst the Claimants argued that “an inquiry as to damages, is as with an account, a process which calls for an additional assessment and inquiry by the court,” and moreover that they had undertaken to pay the correct fee prior to the assessment being made, the Master determined that “the fact that an inquiry requires an assessment by the court as the amount of damages is not sufficient for it to be a non money claim. A claim for damages is a claim for money; the task undertaken by the court is determining the amount of money payable. I cannot identify a distinction in principle between the three types of claim referred to above.” Accordingly the claim was stayed pending the payment of the applicable court fee, which in this case was £10,000.
Whilst the intention when representing a claimant may be entirely honourable in undertaking to pay the correct court fee at such time as its level becomes known, efforts should be made pre-issue to establish what the correct court fee is and ensure that it is paid. Otherwise, as was the result here, the claim may subsequently be stayed and the client have to pay the costs of an application such as that in Lifestyles Equities. When acting for a defendant reference should be made to the court fee that has been paid by the claimant and whether it is the correct one as, depending upon the particular circumstances of the case, such a stay may be beneficial to the client.