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Craig Roach was a heroin addict. He was arrested on 16th January 2004 for shoplifting and remanded into custody the following day. On 18th January 2004 he was found hanging from his bed having used his sheets as a ligature. The family consulted Hodge Jones & Allen who represented them at an inquest, which concluded after 14 days on 27th March 2007 when the Jury reached a narrative verdict. Based upon the findings of the Inquest a civil claim was instigated and settlement reached at an early stage for damages in the sum of £10,000, plus costs. A Bill of Costs in relation to the claim for damages was served upon the Defendant. This could not be agreed principally as a result of the Defendant's contention that they were not liable for any costs incurred in attending the inquest other than, if any, those equal to that of a noting brief. This was not accepted and the matter proceeded to detailed assessment before the Senior Costs Judge on 6th May 2008.
Master Hurst in Roach allowed only half the costs of participation in the inquest on the basis that involvement had been for two equal purposes i.e. helping the coroner and gathering evidence for the civil claim. The Home Office appealed the decision arguing that a series of decisions over the last 60 years had established a binding rule that costs incurred in a prior proceeding (i.e. an inquest) can never be recovered as part of a subsequent civil claim. Therefore, they contended, Costs Judges had no jurisdiction to allow inquest costs either in part or in full. It was argued that the decision in the Bowbelle, which had concluded otherwise, had been decided per incuriam. The Claimant cross appealed the decision to divide the inquest costs equally, or indeed at all, on grounds that it was contrary to practice, authority and principle.
In rejecting the Home Office’s argument and allowing the Claimant’s Appeal Davis J found, inter alia, that:
“I am not bound by authority to accept the proposition for which Mr Morgan [counsel for the Home Office] argued; and I do not think the general principle for which he argued can be extracted from the cases. Since I can see no other convincing rationale for such a proposition, I can see no other basis for restricting the operation of the wide language of section 51 itself and the extent of the court’s jurisdiction.”
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.