Even though non-means testing funding to provide legal representation at inquests for bereaved families has been supported by the chief coroner, it is unavailable unless exceptional circumstances apply.
Consequently, with increasing frequency, families are seeking to recover the costs of legal representation at inquests from subsequent civil claims. There is a body of case law regarding the recovery of the bereaved's inquest costs as part of the costs of a subsequent successful civil claim. The issue for the other party (the defendant in subsequent civil proceedings) is how liability for those costs can be minimised.
Case law: an overview
1. Re Gibson's Settlement Trusts  1 All ER 233
It was held that an order for the payment of costs incurred before proceedings commenced would not be disallowed solely on that account. The work for which the claimant seeks to recover must be:
- Of use and service in the civil claim
- Relevant to the matters in issue in the claim
- Attributable to the defendant's conduct
2. Roach & Anor -v- Home Office  EWHC 312 (QB)
It was held that costs of, and incidental to, all proceedings shall be 'at the discretion of the court' and that there was no rule that inquest costs could not be recovered. Costs should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
3. Douglas -v- Ministry of Justice and Care UK  EWHC B2 (Costs)
It was held that some inquest costs were recoverable under the Re Gibson test even in circumstances where a full (but general) admission of liability had been made in advance of the inquest.
Only the costs of evidencing failures against the defendants could be recovered and on that basis seeking disclosure and obtaining witness evidence from them was recoverable. The costs of making submissions designed to secure a particular verdict was also recoverable.
4. Fullick -v- the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis  EWHC 1941 (QB)
In this claim, the defendant accepted that the costs of attending the inquest were recoverable but challenged the amount claimed, to include the pre-inquest review hearings (PIR) on the basis of proportionality: attendance at the PIR was to assist the coroner for the purpose of gathering evidence only and therefore not recoverable .
The deputy master held that:
- The PIRs 'were instrumental in a number of different ways in getting [the claimants'] own pathology evidence heard at the inquest, in compelling certain police witnesses to attend.'
- The inquest 'went a lot further than evidence gathering' and determined the issues to such an extent that 'settlement was capable of being reached without the civil proceedings having really needing to be progressed.'
- An inquest is not a passive procedure where you just go along and wait to see what comes out and it was artificial to say that the work and preparation undertaken for the inquest was somehow not part of the civil claim, therefore the PIR costs were recoverable.
The decision was upheld on appeal and a three-stage approach for considering inquest costs for civil proceedings was outlined by Mrs Justice Slade:
- Relevance - identification of the issues raised in the civil claim and the relevance of matters in the inquest in order to determine whether any of those costs can in principle be claimed in the civil proceedings.
- Proportionality – if the threshold of relevance is passed, decide whether the costs claimed in respect of the inquest are proportionate to the matters in issue in the civil proceedings.
- The amount – disproportionate costs may be disallowed or reduced even if they are reasonably incurred.
It is therefore likely that claimants can recover at least some inquest costs where they are successful in subsequent civil proceedings.
If it is an Article 2 inquest and/or there is a Human Rights Act 1998 element to the civil claim, there is a greater likelihood that the claimant will recover at least some inquest costs, even if there has been an admission of liability before the inquest.
Defendants should give consideration to making early admissions of specific liability and offers of settlement if they wish to minimise or avoid potential liability for claimants' inquest costs. Defendants may also wish to prepare robust arguments in relation to proportionality even where costs are necessary and reasonably incurred, for example by targeting attendance by claimants' legal representation on specific days of lengthy inquests.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.