Litigant in person fails in argument he should not have to pay indemnity costs

The High Court has rejected an argument that it should not order indemnity costs against a defendant because he was a litigant in person.

His Honour Judge Matthews, sitting in Bristol as a High Court judge, said the defendant had acted as someone who had “no sense of responsibility to the system”.

In the substantive case, the judge decided that the defendant’s request for copy documents or inspection under section 116 of the Companies Act 2006 was invalid, and in addition was not made for a proper purpose.

In the follow-up ruling, Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation v Hardy [2021] EWHC 817 (Ch), he held that the claimant should have its costs as a result.

Arguing for indemnity costs, the claimant said the defendant’s conduct of the case, including taking every possible point, escalated costs, and that his correspondence included offensive remarks.

HHJ Matthews said: “I have been referred to some examples of the latter, which show the defendant (on his own admission) to be using intemperate language, and (in my reading) in a rather condescending manner.

“In my judgment, this behaviour is unnecessary, and indeed counter-productive, because more time and resources are then spent on dealing with these problems of tone and language than in addressing the real issues in the case.”

HHJ Matthews highlighted the 185 emails or letters sent by the defendant to the claimant or its solicitors. “At bottom, this is a straightforward claim based on a request for inspection or copy of the members register. It does not require such disproportionate efforts on the part of the defendant.”

The claimant also made “serious allegations” which were not upheld at trial.

The judge said: “My overall assessment is that the conduct of the defendant in the present case was well out of the norm, in the way he approached the inter partes correspondence, and in the language and tone that he employed in conducting it, in the way that he attempted to put in large amounts of irrelevant material as evidence, and in the way that he made unsupported accusations of serious offences against the claimant and its directors.”

That the defendant was a litigant in person did not “excuse” him. “There are not two sets of rules for litigation in this jurisdiction, one for represented litigants and one for unrepresented…

“In any event, the evidence has disclosed that the defendant is intelligent and articulate, and an experienced litigant in person, with access to legal resources.

“The problem is that, being neither professionally trained nor qualified as a lawyer, he has no sense of responsibility to the system, no duty of the kind that would be owed by a lawyer to the court (and sanctioned if breached), and no professional reputation to lose. In my judgment, this is a clear case for costs to be assessed on the indemnity basis, and I will so order.”

However, HHJ Matthews refused the claimant’s application for summary assessment given the size of the costs claimed: £111,088 for the solicitors, and £22,700 for counsel.

“While these figures may turn out to be justified, they are somewhat larger than I would have expected for what is essentially a short point under the Companies Act. I think in this case justice demands that there be a detailed assessment of those costs.”

But he ordered an interim payment on account of 60%.

Charlie Newington-Bridges (instructed by Willans) for the claimant. The defendant appeared in person.

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Costs News
Published date
29 Jul 2021

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