Court rules the costs of an Inquest are recoverable in a civil claim

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14 November, 2019

Fullick v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2019] EWHC 1941 (QB)

The High Court determined that costs relating to an Inquest are recoverable in a civil claim, but such costs will be subject to the new post-Jackson proportionality rules. Usually, Coroners have no jurisdiction to award costs for inquest hearings.

The facts

Ms. Jones had voluntarily attended a police station as a witness to a crime. She became ill whilst at the police station and died in hospital 8 days later. The deceased's two daughters and her sister brought a claim for damages for breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, negligence and misfeasance in public office.

The Claimants instructed solicitors and an Inquest was held. On 11 June 2015 there was an initial pre-inquest review hearing which the Claimants representatives attended. In June 2015, the Claimants received disclosure from the Defendant and the London Ambulance Service. At the end of March 2016, protective court proceedings were commenced and stayed pending the outcome of the Inquest. In September 2016, a second pre-inquest review hearing took place.

The Inquest lasted seven days, and the jury delivered a narrative verdict that the deceased's death had resulted from methadone and alcohol intoxication coupled with inadequate police policies, procedures and training.

Without service of a letter of claim or particulars of claim, the claim was settled for just over £18,000 in March 2017.

The costs

The Claimant's Bill of Costs was presented in the sum of £122,000. The costs included attending two pre-inquest hearings, the Inquest and £36,000 for work on documents. The Defendant challenged the costs.

The matter proceeded to a detailed assessment and the deputy master awarded all the costs of and related to the Inquest as costs in the civil claim. The Defendant was required to pay the respondents' costs in the sum of £88,356.22.

The Defendant appealed against the decision of a deputy master.

The appeal

On appeal, the Court found that the Inquest had dealt with the cause of death and had looked at police procedures and actions, which was directly relevant to the civil claim and therefore, the costs were recoverable.

The Honourable Mrs Justice Slade DBE concluded that the deputy master did not err in concluding that the costs of attending the Inquest hearing were reasonably and proportionately incurred. Although, she did require two items which had not set out the categories and documents, which were relevant to the civil claim to be re-assessed.

Forbes comment

This is the first appeal after the introduction of the Jackson reforms to consider the recoverability of inquest costs in civil claims. The Judgment confirms that the costs of dealing with an inquest are recoverable from a Defendant, if the inquest is relevant to the civil claim.

Post-Jackson, costs are also subject to the proportionality test pursuant to CPR 44.3(5). In the Fullick case, the Defendant sought to argue that proportionality should have greater weight, noting that a costs award of over £88,000 for pursuing a claim, which settled for £18,000, was disproportionate.

However, when determining whether costs have been proportionately and reasonably incurred or are proportionate and reasonable in amount the Court will not just consider the amount in issue, but the importance of the matter to all the parties. The instant case was about more than money and concerned matters of public interest. Of course, going forward each case will be judged on its own facts, but only costs proportionately and reasonably incurred, and proportionate and reasonable in amount pursuant to CPR 44.4 will be allowed.

Our highly experienced and specialist Inquest team can provide advice and guidance on the Inquest process and any associated matters. For further advice contact Ridwaan Omar via email or phone on 01254 222457 or Lucy Harris via email or phone on 01254 222443.

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