THE PCC of St George’s, Hanworth, was ordered to pay costs in the sum of £10,734 to the London borough of Hounslow in respect of the PCC’s failed application for an injunction against the borough to prevent the development of a site that appeared to be adjacent to the churchyard and curtilage of the church.
In February, the Chancellor of the diocese of London, Judge Seed QC, dismissed the PCC’s application (News, 18 March), and observed that it “appeared to be an optimistic and unjustified attempt to extract money from the borough”. The PCC did not appeal against that decision.
At the Chancellor’s request, the Registrar invited the Deputy Chancellor, Judge David Turner QC, to determine the remaining contested issue of costs arising from the proceedings before the Chancellor. The borough applied for costs of £11,083.
The Consistory Court has a wide discretion to order that one party should pay the whole or part of the legal costs of another party. In exercising that discretion, the court has to have regard to all the circumstances, including the conduct of the parties, the reasonableness or otherwise of the claim, the manner in which the claim was pursued, and questions of success or failure in the outcome of the matter.
The PCC said that a costs order should not be made against it because the decision to proceed against the borough had been made in good faith after consideration and after extensive investigation, and the PCC as a charitable body was obliged proactively to “maximise” assets and take appropriate steps to that end. It said that lack of success in an application — even a flawed application — ought not, in the jurisdiction of the Consistory Court, to result in an adverse costs order.
In response, it was submitted on behalf of the borough that the PCC had not taken any — or adequate — steps fully and properly to investigate the matter before issuing the application for an injunction, and that the PCC’s conduct in both bringing and pursuing the application could properly be characterised as “unreasonable”. It would be wrong in principle, it submitted, to expect council taxpayers in the borough to meet the costs of the PCC’s imprudent action.
The Deputy Chancellor said that he “unhesitatingly” preferred the reasoning of the borough to that of the PCC. The Priest-in-Charge of St George’s, the Revd Paul Williamson, was “not a stranger to litigation, and the PCC must have been warned — or should be deemed to have been warned — of the possibility of an adverse order for costs in the event that their application [was] dismissed”.
By any “reasonable standard of interpretation”, the Deputy Chancellor said, the PCC’s application for an injunction had been “ill-judged, ill-conceived, ill-advised, and ill-prepared, [and] . . . it was properly characterised as unreasonable”. It would, he said, “quite simply be unjust to the borough not to order the PCC to pay its costs in this case”.
The Deputy Chancellor assessed costs to be £10,734, and ordered that those costs be paid by the PCC to the borough.