News in brief – 03.06.2020

LAA brings civil court assessed claims in-house
The Legal Aid Agency is set to transfer civil court assessed claims from HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to be handled in-house by its civil finance team.

In an announcement, the LAA said: “In recent weeks, many providers have gone without payment for cases because of court closures during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bringing this work in-house will remove the need for claims to go before the courts. This will mean faster payments in both the long and short-term for your work.”

The agency said it was already set up to receive claims and firms could start sending them in now. It is agreeing a transfer date with HMCTS, after which it will be mandatory.

The LAA will consult on amendments to the Cost Assessment Guidance to reflect the change, while operational guidance for firms wishing to submit claims ahead of the consultation closing has been published.

CA makes rare costs order in dispute over placement of child
The decision of a local authority to fight an appeal against a ruling about the placement of a child, where it had not acted in an even-handed manner before the trial judge, has been punished in costs by the Court of Appeal.

In W (A child) [2020] EWCA Civ 77 earlier this year, the Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by a little boy’s great-aunt against care and placement orders, leading to another judge ordering that he be placed with her.

In Re T (children) [2010] UKSC 36 and Re S [2015] UKSC 20, the Supreme Court has made clear that costs orders in cases involving children should only be made in “unusual circumstances”, such as unreasonable behaviour, and that there may be cases where real hardship would be caused if the party that achieved what was in the best interests of the child had to bear their own costs of doing so.

Here, the appeal court was critical of the local authority and the guardian in respect of a number of important issues which impacted upon the judge’s approach. Lady Justice King said: “This court concluded that the local authority, notwithstanding their duty to put an even-handed case before the judge, had provided the judge with an ‘uneven picture’.”

The appellant argued that the requirement to be even-handed and transparent when seeking permanently to sever a child’s ties with his birth family could not be more overwhelming or important. She also submitted that the local authority, having read the judge’s ruling and seeing that it contained significant errors of fact, should, once permission to appeal had been granted, led to authority taking stock with a view to conceding that the appeal should be allowed.

The court acknowledged that the costs of the appeal would have had a significant financial impact upon the great-aunt in addition to the sums already spent to make her home suitable for the boy.

In response, the authority emphasised the strain on its resources and submitted that it had had no proper opportunity to take stock, detailing delays in providing bundles, late filing of skeleton arguments and other procedural “mishaps” on the part of the appellant.

King LJ said: “Whilst sympathising with the frustration of the local authority in such circumstances, in my judgment the basis of the appeal and the deficiencies in the judgment were, at all times, completely apparent…

“In my judgment, in this case there was a failure to be even-handed on the part of the local authority in their presentation of the case to the judge at first instance and thereafter a failure to recognise (save to a very limited extent) that the judgment as drafted could not justify the order that was made.

“In those circumstances and in the unusual circumstances of this case, I would order the local authority to make a contribution towards the costs of the appellant.”

She ordered the authority to pay £12,000 towards the appellant’s costs.

Matthew Brookes-Baker (instructed by Boardman Hawkins and Osborne) for the appellant; Vanessa Meachin QC and James Legg (instructed by the local authority’s children’s trust legal department) for the first respondent local authority; Michael Bailey (instructed by Lillywhite Williams) for the second respondent mother.

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Post type
Costs News
Published date
03 Jun 2020

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