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Decisions of the Supreme Court, the highest court, are usually keenly awaited. They can have real practical implications as two very recent cases show.

Motor sports, human rights and no win no fee

Not a combination one would usually put together, but in this appeal[1] the operators of a motor sports stadium challenged the very basis of the no win no fee costs regime that was in place before April 2013.

The owners of a bungalow brought a claim in nuisance against the operators of the stadium. The owners won after an eleven day trial and numerous appeals and were awarded £20,750 in damages. The stadium operators were ordered to pay 60% of the owners’ costs.

The owners had entered into a no win no fee conditional fee agreement (CFA) with their lawyers and had taken out an after the event insurance policy. Under the rules applicable at that time, the success fee and insurance premium were part of the costs that could be recovered from the operators. The operators challenged their liability to pay the success fee and premium on the basis that it infringed their right to a fair trial under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). They argued that the system then in place unjustifiably interfered with the rights of ‘non-rich’ litigants who unsuccessfully contested litigation brought by parties who had the benefit of CFAs and insurance.

A finding that the CFA costs regime was incompatible with the ECHR would have had major implications for claims brought under CFAs entered into before April 2013.

The Supreme Court decision 

The majority of the Supreme Court found that the Convention rights of the stadium operators were not infringed. It was recognised that there had been no perfect solution of how best to enhance access to justice following the withdrawal of legal aid for costs for civil cases. But whilst the flaws with the system were recognised that was not the deciding factor. The issue was whether it was a disproportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim.

The majority view was that the scheme as a whole was a rational and coherent scheme for providing access to justice to those to whom it would probably otherwise have been denied. The Government was entitled to a considerable area of discretionary judgment in choosing the scheme that it considered would strike the right balance whilst at the same time securing access to justice.

The decision brings to an end attempts to challenge the CFA system.

The car parking charges case continues…

In the last week, the Supreme Court has heard an appeal by an individual [2] to overturn an £85 car parking charge. We have discussed this in earlier blogs (Swerving unenforceable contracts: my car parking experience) and we will provide an update on the outcome, although that is likely to be some months away.

You can watch Supreme Court proceedings live, or even ‘on demand’ at https://www.supremecourt.uk/.

[1] Coventry Lawrence [2015] UKSC 50

[2] Beavis v ParkingEye Ltd

 


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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.