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Recoverability of Inquest Costs

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Judgment was handed down recently in an appeal concerning the issue of whether or not the costs of representation at an inquest can be recoverable in later civil proceedings, Roach v Home Office, Matthews v Home Office [2009] EWHC (QB).

Judgment was handed down recently in an appeal concerning the issue of whether or not the costs of representation at an inquest can be recoverable in later civil proceedings, Roach v Home Office, Matthews v Home Office [2009] EWHC (QB). 

Both claims against the Home Office followed a breach of duty of care to prisoners who had committed suicide during their incarceration after the prison service failed to deal adequately with their addiction to drugs.

In the Roach case, the inquest verdict in March 2007 was followed by a detailed letter of claim. There was no substantive response to this and proceedings were issued by Mr Roach's parents. The case settled by a consent order which provided for agreed damages to be paid plus reasonable costs. The bill of costs totalled around £67k of which a large proportion was attributable to the attendance of counsel and solicitors at the inquest.

The case of Matthews followed a similar pattern. Following proceedings being issued a consent order was agreed provided for damages plus costs. The Bill came to approximately £92k which also included a large amount of inquest costs.

The Home Office argued, on the basis of a series of decisions over the last 60 years, that there was a binding rule that costs incurred in prior proceedings (i.e. the inquest) can't be recovered in subsequent proceedings. It was contended that therefore costs judges had no jurisdiction to allow the recoverability of the costs of participation in inquests.

The Court looked carefully at Section 51 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 which provides that costs of and incidental to all proceedings "...shall be in the discretion of the court".

The paying parties argued that previous case law required the Court to find that the costs in prior proceedings can never be recovered in subsequent proceedings. Furthermore the inquests would have taken place irrespective of any subsequent civil claim. The costs incurred were therefore incidental to the inquests and not the civil claims.

The paying parties specifically referred to the case of Bowbelle, where inquest costs had been allowed. It was argued that the decision in Bowbelle had been decided per incuriam i.e. without reference to a statutory provision or earlier judgment which would have been relevant. However it was held that there was no "rule" that inquest costs could not be recovered, and that these costs should be dealt with on a case by case basis.

At first instance the Costs Judge in Roach had allowed half the costs of participation in the inquest on the basis that involvement had been for two purposes; helping the coroner and gathering evidence.  The Judge on appeal overturned this division and remitted the costs to the Costs Judge for assessment.

This decision will carry significance far beyond cases of death in custody.  The decision establishes that the costs of attendance at and participation in inquests may, subject to relevance and the usual principles of reasonableness and proportionality, be recoverable in civil proceedings. 

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