The defendant costs specialists

Cole v News Group – The unread judgment

By on Mar 3, 2009 | 0 comments

Many years ago, when I was studying for my law degree, I was told never to simply rely on the headnote of a law report, but to read the judgment in full. This was for two reasons. Firstly, it was often only by reading the full judgment would one properly understand the decision and the reasoning behind it. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the headnote was sometimes inaccurate and misleading. Of course, at the time, I ignored that advice.

The modern equivalent to that advice is never trust case summaries you have simply read on the internet (this blog included) but to actually read the full judgment yourself.

A perfect example of the problems that arise from not following this advice is the strange case of Cole v News Group Newspapers Ltd (18/10/06, SCCO, unreported). I say “strange” because of the way this case has been reported. The background to the judgment was a libel claim brought by a certain well known footballer. I don’t need to repeat the salacious details of the original story, but I’m sure Ashley would be intrigued to discover this case has become best known in certain circles as a legal costs law authority rather than for the original allegations.

A quick Google search for “Cole v News Group” produces a number of legal websites offering case summaries of this judgment. They all appear to be inaccurate. I say “appear” because the difficulty with this case is it truly does seem to be unreported and is not available on any of the normal resources such as Bailli or Lawtel. This seems to have encouraged a number of individuals to pass on details of this case on a Chinese whispers basis without actually obtaining and reading a copy. Further, a growing number of claimant costs draftsmen routinely quote this case to resist requests for disclosure of CFAs. It may be that the transcript of the case that I have seen is not the final decision and that a further decision exists. If that is the case, and any reader can produce a more recent decision, I will happily write a further post on the subject.

Of the various case summaries that do exist on the internet, three of them refer to this being a decision of Master Haworth in the SCCO. Two of those give the date of the judgment as being February 2007. The third states it is a decision of the Court of Appeal in February 2007. All the summaries seem to suggest that the Court (whichever Court it was) held that a court would not order disclosure of a CFA unless the paying party had first raised a “genuine issue”. I don’t propose in this post to address what the law actually is on that point.

So what did the judgment actually say? I believe the summary in Cook on Costs 2009 provides a true account of the decision (if not the law): “With the removal of the [CFA] Regulations from 1 November 2005 a CFA needs only to be in writing and signed but that did not stop an application for disclosure in Ashely Cole v News Group (2006) Oct 18 SCCO. That application failed simply because no points of dispute had been served hence CPR 47.14 and CPD 40.14 did not apply. No decision was made as to the applicability of Hollins to post 1 November 2005″.

The transcript I have is dated 18 October 2006 (the same as the one quoted in Cook on Costs) and I am therefore proceeding on the basis that it is indeed the only judgment made in this case on that point. Cook on Costs’ summary is accurate. The application was dismissed simply on the basis that it was premature. There is absolutely no mention of “genuine issue” in the judgment, let alone any finding on this point. Indeed, the judgment concludes that when the matter comes back to the Court for the detailed assessment hearing “it may very well be that at that stage a disclosure of the CFA is appropriate”.

So my advice, particularly to any claimant law costs draftsmen reading this blog, is obtain and read the actual judgment in this case before seeking to rely on a decision that does not actually support your position.

I’ll come back to why Cook on Costs was wrong on the law on another day.

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