Lynch vs Chief Constable of Warwickshire Police, Warwickshire County Council and Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust
The Senior Court Cost Office has handed down a decision in the above case offering additional guidance as to when and what costs of attending an inquest can be recovered in subsequent civil proceedings.
The inquest concerned the death of Ms Lynch who had been murdered by her former partner in 2005. Prior to her murder, both Ms Lynch and members of her family contacted the Police on a number of occasions requesting help. Following her murder a claim in damages was brought on behalf of her estate. The claims were settled with orders for costs, within which they sought to recover the costs of attending the inquest.
The costs relating to the inquest amounted to £750,000. Of this £600,000 was for attendance at the inquest itself. The Claimant had been represented at the inquest by two counsel, a partner and a trainee solicitor. The inquest lasted for 10 weeks.
The Cost Judge accepted in principle that inquest costs could be recoverable as costs of and incidental to the later civil proceedings. But there was no guidance as to what should be regarded as “costs incidental” .
At the costs hearing the Defendants raised a number of challenges as to what was recoverable. They raised arguments of necessity and proportionality. They relied on there being sufficient disclosure prior to the inquest to argue that the Claimant should of had sufficient access to evidence and could have assessed the strength of the claim, without the need to attend at the inquest itself. Arguments were also raised by the Defendant as to the extent of the representation at the inquest.
The Judge found that the Claimant’s cost were globally disproportionate. It was observed that whilst the case pre dated the cost budgeting regime, no Court would be likely to approve such high pre-issue costs.
The Judge went on to find that the costs of other particular parts of the inquest process were not recoverable. Time spent “assisting the coroner” was not recoverable. Similarly any pre-inquest hearings or applications etc, which were not relevant to the civil claim, would not be recoverable. In terms of the inquest itself, time spent summing up, any witness evaluation and questions to the jury and the verdict itself, such costs were not recoverable. Time spent listening to statements being read was also not recoverable.
In relation to the attendance by legal representatives the Judge disallowed the costs of leading Counsel. He allowed the costs of junior Counsel (or senior Solicitor) for attendance during the evidence of the Claimant’s own witnesses; when no questions were asked by the Claimant’s team; during the evidence of witnesses whom the coroner described as not directly involved and during the Defendant’s systems witnesses. Where a witness had already given evidence in other proceedings (police disciplinary proceedings in this case) all that was recoverable was the cost of a trainee Solicitor to take a note.
Although the Judge stated that the case was not intended to lay down any guidelines it is useful in illustrating what costs arising from an inquest are likely to be recoverable and at what level. Further, it demonstrates such costs are to be assessed on the basis of reasonableness and proportionality.