Inquest Costs and Their Recoverability Within Civil Proceedings

Considering Common Law on the Issue

 

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The recoverability of Inquest costs is governed by Section 51 of the Supreme Court Act 1981. The core of this section is that it states that costs of and incidental to the civil proceedings are recoverable and at the Court’s discretion.

 

Re Gibson’s Settlement Trusts [1981] Ch 179

The leading case for Inquest costs is Gibson, which sets out the ability to recover the same within civil proceedings. In this case, the pre-action costs were deemed to be incidental to the Court proceedings, and thus they were left to the Court’s discretion in respect of recoverability. A three-stage test was set out and was applied by the Court that costs must:

  1. Prove to be of use and service to the main action.
  2. Be relevant to the issue at hand
  3. Be attributable to the paying parties’ conduct.

This is commonly referred to as the Gibson Test, and has been applied to a number of issues relating to the recoverability of pre-action costs. Essentially if pre-action costs can be causally linked to the subsequent civil claim, such costs should in theory be recoverable on conclusion, subject to the usual tests of reasonableness and proportionality.

 

Bowbelle [1997] 2 LL.Rep. 196 (QB)

The Court held that Inquest costs could be recovered as part of the main civil action as long as they were reasonably incurred and on the basis that these costs were incidental to the main claim.  This essentially reaffirmed the approach of the Gibson Test.

 

Stewart & Howard v Medway NHS Trust [2004] 1 Inquest LR 71 (SCCO)

This case followed the principles set out in the case of Gibson. The Defendant in this case argued that the costs incurred to attend the Inquest were not capable of being recovered as the costs order was limited to the main action and those costs which are incidental to it. The Defendant argued that the Inquest was a separate action altogether. Master O’Hare decided against the Defendant, stating that the purpose of the party who incurred the costs should be assessed, and not the purpose of the main action itself. The Judge awarded costs of the Inquest as they were found to be incidental to the main action (and thus costs of the civil claim).

 

Jacqueline King v Milton Keynes General NHS Trust [2004] EWHC 9007 (SCCO)

In this case, Master Gordon-Saker held that the costs of attendance at the Inquest (and those for questioning witnesses) could be recoverable if the purpose were to obtain evidence for the main action. However, the costs incurred for the work done in order to persuade the Coroner to reach a certain verdict were not found to be recoverable.

 

Roach and another v Home Office and Matthews v. Home Office [2009] EWHC 312 (QB)

In the case of Roach v Home Office, the Judge held that the costs of attending an Inquest were capable of recovery, even though the parties cannot expect to recover 100% of these costs. It was held that the costs of the Inquest would be recoverable only in the main action if incidental to the same. The Court refused to give general guidance on assessing Inquest costs, stating that each case needs to be judged in its own merits and facts, in line with s.51 and the Gibson Test (as above).

 

Amelda Helen Lynch & Ors v Chief Constable of Warwickshire & Ors (2014)

This is a matter often relied upon by paying parties, and once which provides detailed guidance on how to assess Inquest costs claimed as part of a civil claim.

The Inquest in Lynch was lengthy, lasting over two months. The costs of attending the Inquest were claimed at £750,000 and included the costs of Leading and Junior Counsel, and a senior and junior file handler. The Defendant here argued that the majority of the allegations within the Particulars of Claim were dealt with in disclosure pre-inquest. It was submitted that attendance was not necessary by the Claimant’s legal representatives and argued that a simple note-taker was the only party required to attend the Inquest. The Defendant identified categories of work where the Court was asked to order that no attendance was required.

Master Rowley heard the case, and in making his judgement, he relied on the case of Gibson (above) where it had been decided that costs in relation to pre-action were incidental to the proceedings and therefore at the Court’s discretion. Further, Master Rowley also applied the three-stage test mentioned in Gibson. Whilst ruling that the costs were up to the Court’s discretion, Master Rowley did not allow the costs of the attendance at the full Inquest. It was found essential that the attendance had a clear benefit and was proportionate to the proposed claim.

Whilst it was stated that Inquest costs in principle were recoverable. specific guidance was given that the following elements of costs did not contributed to the civil claim, and thus were not recoverable: assisting the Coroner; housekeeping; procedural matters; summing up; listening to a witness statement be read out; witness evaluation; questions to the jury; the verdict; and client care.

 

Fullick v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2019] Costs LR 1231

This is a recent key case in relation to Inquest costs, and a subsequent Human Rights claim under Article 2 settled pre-issue in the sum of £18,000. However, there were two Pre-Inquest Reviews which took place, with a seven-day Inquest following.

Deputy Master Keens assessed the Claimant’s costs and held that the Pre-Inquest Reviews went a lot further than just to gather evidence and were used to determine the issues, and were the reason settlement was reached.  Costs in the first instance were assessed in the sum of £88,356.22 (having been claimed at £122,000).

The Defendant appealed the decision to the High Court, and the case was heard by Slade J. Slade J held that there are three stages to the Court’s assessment which the costs judge must consider:

  1. Relevance
  2. Proportionality
  3. Amount

Slade J held that the costs must be relevant to the issue in the civil claim. This requires identifying issues in the claim which would be advanced by the participation in the Inquest. The costs of the Inquest were found to be proportionate and reasonable and that the claim was not just about money.  As such, whilst costs of the Pre-Inquest Reviews were directed to be reassessed taking into account potential elements which did not relate to the civil claim, the remainder of the assessed costs remained undisturbed.  This is a positive decision in respect of costs recovery, given that proportionality did not simply focus on the damages element, but also took into account the importance of the matters associated with Inquest cases.

 

Summary

Costs of an Inquest preceding a civil claim can be recovered however, it is common that Bills of Costs prepared in such cases can incorporate significant claims for Inquest costs and lead to a sizeable costs claim.

The overriding objecting of ensuring costs are reasonable and, Post-LASPO, proportionate and cost effective, still remains key and thus one should not expect to recover 100% of their Inquest costs, particularly when taking into account the principles of Lynch and Fullick that only costs relatable to the civil claim can be recovered inter-partes.  Proportionality should also not just focus on the level of damages recovered, but also the importance of the claim to the Claimant.

 

How Can ARC Costs Assist?

ARC Costs provide assistance in the quantification, negotiation and recovery of all costs matters, including Inquest costs. As independent Costs Lawyers and Costs Draftsman providing legal advice, we act for both receiving parties in maximising their legal costs recovery, and also for paying parties in reducing the amount of any costs claim brought against them.

We are adept in preparing Bills of Costs and conducting negotiations on your behalf, as well as preparing Points of Dispute or Points of Reply. Should you require assistance in respect of any costs dispute, or require advice on Alternative Dispute Resolution, please contact us via the live chat facility below, via email at info@arccosts.co.uk, or call one of our costs experts on 01204 397302.

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