This post, and those that follow, summarise some of the main points of interest arising from the ALBA Conference 2019.
‘Practice and Procedure Update’ – Chair: Lord Justice Singh; Speakers: Catherine Dobson, Jo Clement, Christopher Knight
Catherine Dobson: Costs in Public Interest Litigation
Sir Rupert Jackson’s 2009 review of costs in civil litigation found that reform was required in relation to judicial review. This was because it was “not in the public interest that potential claimants should be deterred from bringing properly arguable judicial review proceedings by the very considerable financial risks involved”. Whilst the government did not take up the proposal for qualified one-way costs shifting in judicial review, it did introduce a scheme for cost capping orders in judicial review. This change was the focus of Ms Dobson’s talk.
Assuming that from now on you will always have to budget your costs? Maybe, but not necessarily…
Generally speaking, we lawyers dislike procedural change. While we may well understand that a particular change is necessary and we will certainly recognise that we need to adapt to it when it comes, such changes nonetheless tend to make us feel ignorant and highly uncomfortable. We have to treat any new procedural regime as a known unknown, which presents pitfalls for the unwary, at least until we become familiar with it. And in the meantime, a culture of half-knowledge develops, an uncertain and dangerous combination of a little learning, anecdote, and false assumptions. This very often leads to negative over-simplification.
The typical common lawyer’s attitude to costs budgeting is a good example of this. There will be many litigators who are fully familiar with the new regime, who, maybe on a weekly basis, have to provide their own draft budgets (and to try to agree those set by their opponents), and therefore know their way around and navigate it quite happily. However, for many of the rest of us, the budgeting regime still, even now, feels like an inflexible and inscrutable monolith for which we have to relearn all we know every time we approach it.
Review of Fixed Recoverable Costs: Supplemental Report, 31 July 2017 – here
Jackson LJ is still toiling away at costs issues some 8 years after his main report. The original report changed the whole way in which the civil courts go about working how much, if anything, is due from one side to another at the end of a case – budgets being one key element. The main part of this new report concerns extending fixed costs further.
This post is about something different, judicial review. Rather different factors may come into play when you are challenging public authorities. You may have a direct financial or other interest in the outcome, or you may just think that the law needs properly enforcing against those authorities. It does not follow that the winner should recover costs on the same rules as elsewhere in the civil system. And Jackson LJ returns to the question of costs in this context in Chapter 10 of his report.
Since 2013, things have been different in the area of environmental judicial reviews. With substantial prods from the EU, things are now better off for claimants, though recent reforms have sought to put further obstacles in the way of claimants: see my post here.
So it is refreshing to read something from a very senior judge which recognises the true value of judicial review as a whole and why the costs rules need adjusting in this area for the benefit of claimants.
R (o.t.a Soma Oil & Gas) v. Director of the Serious Fraud Office  EWHC 2471 (Admin) 12 October 2016 – read judgment
Soma are investing heavily ($40m spent on seismic work) in looking at oil and gas extraction in Somalia, so it was a bit of a set-back, to say the least, when their “capacity-building” efforts – funding infrastructure in the relevant Ministry – were alleged to fall under the Bribery Act 2010, and this led to a fraud investigation by the UK SFO. The investigations, as investigations do, dragged on, and Soma brought these, somewhat ambitious, proceedings to get an order telling the SFO to stop them.
As you may have guessed, the claim failed, though, as we will see, it may have achieved rather different benefits.
The judgment of the Administrative Court is a concise account of when the private challenger can and cannot seek orders in respect of investigations and prosecutions – whether to stop or start them. Here Soma wanted to stop the investigation. In other circumstances, a victim may want the authorities to start an investigation or prosecution into another party: see, e.g. Chaudhry, decided earlier this week.
This Court of Protection case has, unusually, made the papers, and when you read the details you won’t be surprised. What the judge described as a “callous and calculating” son charged his widowed mother, who suffered from dementia, more than £117 000 for “out of pocket expenses” visiting her in her nursing home. He had been in charge of her expenses since 2004 when Sheila (the mother) had been admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. But alarm bells only went off after her unpaid nursing bills reached nearly £30 000. The Public Guardian launched an enquiry that led to this hearing of an application for the court to revoke the son’s (Martin’s) Enduring Power of Attorney (‘EPA’) and to direct him to cancel its registration. The Public Guardian also applied to freeze Sheila’s bank account. Continue reading →
The pre-April 2013 Conditional Fee Agreement system, under which claimants could recover uplifts on their costs and their insurance premiums from defendants, has survived – just. It received a sustained challenge from defendants to the effect that such a system was in breach of their Article 6 rights to a fair trial.
In a seven-justice court there was a strongly-worded dissent of two, and two other justices found the case “awkward.”
The decision arises out of the noisy speedway case about which I posted in March 2014 – here. The speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. On an initial hearing (my post here), the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they ordered a further hearing to decide whether this was compatible with Article 6 .
R (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.
R (on the application of) Gudanaviciene and others v The Director of Legal Aid Casework and others  EWCA Civ 1622 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance on exceptional funding in civil legal aid is incompatible with the right of access to justice under Article 6 of the ECHR and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Court has further decided that this Guidance was not compatible with Article 8 of the ECHR in immigration cases; in other words, that legal aid should not be refused when applicants for entry to the UK seek to argue that refusal of entry would interfere with their right to respect for private and family life.
Widely – and quickly – reported as a “crushing” or an “emphatic” defeat – in a rare turn – the Government was last night defeated in three consecutive votes on its proposals to restrict access to judicial review. With a ‘hat-trick’ of blows, on three crucial issues, votes on amendments tabled by Lords Pannick, Woolf, Carlile and Beecham were decisive. On the proposal to amend the materiality test – the Government lost by 66. On the compulsory disclosure of financial information for all judicial review applicants, and again on the costs rules applicable to interveners, the Government lost by margins on both counts by 33. A fourth amendment to the Government proposals on Protective Costs Orders – which would maintain the ability of the Court to make costs capping orders before permission is granted – was called after the dinner break, and lost.
Whitston (Asbestos Victims Support Victims Support Groups Forum UK) v Secretary of State for Justice and the Association of British Insurers (Interested Party)  EWHC 3044 – read judgment
Jeremy Hyam and Kate Beattie of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the Claimant in this case. They had nothing to do with the writing of this post.
In April 2013 the rules permitting recovery of success fees under Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs) and After The Event (ATE) insurance premiums changed in response to the Jackson proposals – with one exception, namely in respect of mesothelioma claims.
This case concerns the Lord Chancellor’s intention to bring costs rules in mesothelioma claims in line with other claims.
As many of you will know, mesothelioma is an industrial disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos. It is a rare form of cancer which generally does not become apparent until many years after exposure to asbestos, a feature which at least in the past has led to real problems when mounting a claim against those responsible for the exposure. Once the cancer does become symptomatic its progression is rapid. Most sufferers survive for less than 12 months from the onset of symptoms. Yet the effects of the disease over the period from the onset of symptoms to death are hugely painful and debilitating. This combination of factors means that litigation in relation to mesothelioma is unusual in comparison with many other types of litigation involving personal injury or industrial disease. In almost every case in which a claim is made for damages for mesothelioma the effective defendant is an insurance company. Continue reading →
Two important cases in the last few days showing how difficult it is to find a fair way to litigate private nuisance cases. Most of these claims have a modest financial value, but may raise complex factual and expert issues, even before you get to the law. The first case I shall deal with, Coventry, shows the iniquities of the recently departed system. The second, Austin, the dangers of the new.
Coventry is the sequel to the speedway case about which I posted in March – here. The”relatively small” local speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. More than half of this was no-win-no-fee uplift and insurance premium combined. Indeed, the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they have ordered a further hearing to decide whether such a costs bill was in breach of Article 6 of the ECHR.
Austin is a claim concerning noise and dust affecting the claimant’s house close to an open-cast mine on the edge of Merthyr Tydfil: see pic. Before I go further, I should say that I represented Mrs Austin at an earlier stage of these proceedings.
In the present hearing, she unsuccessfully sought an order limiting the costs which she might have to pay if she lost the litigation (a protective costs order or PCO).
So each case is about a costs burden, which is capable of causing injustice to one or other party.
LH Ltd v The Legal Ombudsman  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 this 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 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.
Mitchell 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.
X Local Authority v Trimega Laboratories and others  EWCC 6 (Fam) – read judgment
Technical evidence can sometimes be crucial to judicial decisions and this case shows how dramatic the consequences are for a family if evidence is unreliable. If the respondent in this case had not put probity before its commercial interests, a mother would have been deprived of the care of her child. Hence the importance of publishing the judgment.
The case arose out applications by the parents, a child and the child’s guardian to care proceedings for wasted costs orders against Trimega Laboratories. In short, the care proceedings had been brought for a number of reasons foremost of which was the mother’s “excessive drinking”. In March 2013 the mother said she had been abstinent from alcohol since August 2012. But in July 2013 a blood alcohol test report from Trimega suggested that she had been drinking. Her abstinence was a crucial factor in the plan for rehabilitation of the child to her care, and had it not been for this test result a final order would have been made on 25 July 2013 and the child returned to her. Continue reading →
Mousa and others, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 2941 (Admin) – read judgment
A postscript to Rosalind English’s post of today. In the substantive judgment (see Adam Wagner’s post on the order), the Divisional Court decided two main issues, one relating to the independence of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, and one relating to the extent to which an inquiry conducted through IHAT complied with Article 2 of the ECHR. The Secretary of State succeeded on the first issue, whereas the claimant succeeded substantially on the second issue relating to the need for a different form of inquiry. Hence there was no overall winner; the Secretary of State won on the first issue and the claimant succeeded substantially on the second issue. But more time was spent on the first issue.
What then to do about costs? And why is that interesting – promise you, it is important.
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