The Round-up: Controversy over the Courts Charge and Serdar Mohammed

Photo credit: The Guardian

In the news

The Howard League for Penal Reform has called for a review of the “unfair and unrealistic” Criminal Courts Charge, which “ penalises the poor and encourages the innocent to plead guilty”. The mandatory charge of up to £1,200 is imposed on those who admit committing minor misdemeanours, regardless of their circumstances.

The charity has compiled a list of cases where heavy financial charges have been demanded of people convicted of low-level offences. These include the case of a 38-year-old homeless man who admitted persistently begging in Oxford, and breaching an Asbo prohibiting him from sitting within 10 metres of a cash machine. He was jailed for 30 days and ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge.

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No entitlement to human rights damages after ‘caste discrimination’ case collapse

Photo via Guardian.co.uk

Photo via Guardian.co.uk

Begraj v Secretary of State for Justice [2015] EWHC 250 (QB) – Read judgment

Adam Wagner acted for the Secretary of State in this case. He is not the author of  this post.

The High Court has ruled that when long-running employment tribunal hearing collapsed as the result of the judge’s recusal due to apparent bias the claimants in the action could not obtain damages for wasted costs under section 6 of the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998 (specifically Article 6, the right to a fair trial) or the EU Charter.

The High Court confirmed that the County Court had acted lawfully in striking out the claim for having no reasonable prospects of success and for being an abuse of process. The state immunity for judicial acts in section 9(3) HRA 1998 applied, and in any event there had been no breach of Article 6 as the judge’s recusal preserved the parties’ Article 6 rights.  Continue reading

Acquitted defendants costs regime not incompatible with ECHR

448bbd010e93bd0d21e13a354a3cd82bR (o.t.a Henderson) v. Secretary of State for Justice, Divisional Court, 27 January 2015 – judgment  here

The Court (Burnett LJ giving the sole judgment) has ruled on whether the statutory changes made to the ability of acquitted defendants in the Crown Court to recover their costs from central funds are compatible with the ECHR. 

Its answer – an emphatic yes, the new rules are compatible. This conclusion was reached in respect of the two statutory regimes applicable since October 2012, as we shall see.

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Loss of capacity does not automatically terminate solicitor’s retainer

Anoxic-Brain-InjuriesBlankley v Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust, Phillips J with assessors, 5 February 2014 – read judgment

Upholding the rights of individuals who lack the mental capacity to conduct proceedings can be a minefield for the unwary or even, as shown by this case, the wary. The point at issue before the court was whether, where a party loses mental capacity in the course of proceedings, such loss of capacity has the automatic and immediate effect of terminating their solicitor’s retainer. Continue reading

The Legal Ombudsman: more than a paper tiger

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 11.54.03Layard Horsfall Ltd v The Legal Ombudsman [2013] EWHC 4137 (QB) – Read judgment

Adam Wagner represented the Legal Ombudsman in this case. He is not the writer of this post

Does the Legal Ombudsman have teeth? That was, in effect, the question before the High Court in Layard Horsfall, a judicial review brought by a former solicitor against a decision by the Ombudsman to reduce his fees following a complaint by one of his clients. The Court’s answer was a very clear yes. Where the Ombudsman has made her decision properly, taking relevant factors into account, it is likely to withstand judicial review challenge.

In this case, the solicitor in question, Mr Horsfall, had been convicted of a count of fraud following an investigation into his involvement in money laundering and had been imprisoned and struck off the roll of solicitors. His prison sentence served, he was now pursuing his former clients through the courts for unpaid invoices. He appeared on behalf of his firm with the court’s permission, arguing that the Ombudsman’s decision to reduce his fees from £5,000 including VAT to £1,500 plus VAT (in a case which had nothing to do with the money laundering allegations) was in excess of jurisdiction and was irrational.

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The Supreme Court on “prohibitively expensive” costs: Aarhus again

R (Edwards & Pallikaropoulos) v. Environment Agency et al, Supreme Court, 11 December 2013 read judgment

This is the last gasp in the saga on whether Mrs Pallikaropoulos should bear £25,000 of the costs of her unsuccessful 2008 appeal to the House of Lords. And the answer, after intervening trips to the Supreme Court in 2010 and to the CJEU in 2013, is a finding by the Supreme Court that she should bear those costs.

The judgment by Lord Carnwath (for the Court) is a helpful application of the somewhat opaque reasoning of the European Court on how to decide whether an environmental case is “prohibitively expensive” per Article 9(4) of the Aarhus Convention, and thus whether the court should protect the claimant against such liabilities. The judgment also considers the guidance given by A-G Kokott more recently in infraction proceedings against the UK for breaches of that provision: see my post.

But note that the dispute has been largely overtaken by recent rule changes, and so we should start with these before looking at the judgment.

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Plebgate and costs budgets – The Sun off the hook for big bucks

Jackson_0_0Mitchell v. News Group Newspapers 27 November 2013, CA  read judgment

We all know the story about how Andrew Mitchell MP may, or may not, have tried to barge past policeman in Downing Street with the memorable phrase “you’re f…ing plebs”. Like a lot of good stories, it may not be true, and like a lot of good stories it was picked up by The Sun. So Mr Mitchell sues The Sun in libel on the basis that it is untrue.

But this decision of the Court of Appeal is all about the reforms initiated by the man to my left, Sir Rupert Jackson, also a judge in the CA, who has shaken up the whole system of legal costs in civil litigation. And one of the major steps he has taken is to compel litigants to say what they intend to spend on a case early on – the costs budget – so that the judges can make some assessment of whether the thing is to be run sensibly or extravagantly.

Cue the present argument, where our MP’s lawyers do not file their costs budget on time, which is 7 days before the relevant hearing. So the parties go before the court, and The Sun says – we did our bit on time but we only got their budget yesterday, and we are not ready. To cut a long story short, The Sun now stand to recover a budgeted figure of £589,555 if they win, but our hapless MP (or his lawyers) will only recover his court fees if he wins.

How so?

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