£3,500 DAMAGES: A 10 DAY TRIAL: 3 DAYS IN THE COURT OF APPEAL: £500,000 IN COSTS: BLEAK HOUSE IN THE COURT OF APPEAL

In Gilks -v- Hodgson [2015] EWCA Civ 5 the Court of Appeal had strong words to say about the costs of a boundary dispute. The observations should be read by anyone tempted to litigate about these issues.

THE CASE

The parties were involved in a boundary dispute relating to the boundaries of land and a right of way. There had been a 10 day trial where certain declarations were made. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal in relation to the boundary dispute but dismissed it in relation to the right of way.

THE COURT OF APPEAL’S OBSERVATIONS ON THE COSTS AND CONDUCT OF THE ACTION

SIR STANLEY BURNTON

  1. This is a depressingly unfortunate dispute between neighbours. The costs so far approach half a million pounds, far more than the value of the rights involved. It is a dispute that could and should have been compromised on terms that both parties could live with. The trial took 10 days, and even then some issues, referred to by the judge at paragraph 2 of his judgment, were left undecided.
  2. The judicial time of determining the issues following the trial was greatly increased by the regrettable lack of time for the judge to write his judgment until several months after the trial. It is well known that the longer the period between a hearing and the writing of a judgment the longer is the time required to produce the judgment. The judge was assisted by the transcripts, but obtaining them added to the costs of this case for the legal system.

LORD JUSTICE BEAN

  1. I only add how dismayed I have been by this Dickensian litigation. The disputed strip of land and right of way do not constitute the sole means of access to anyone’s home. The award of damages to Mr & Mrs Gilks was £3,500. Yet, at a time when the courts are under great pressure, the battle between these two couples took up ten days of court time – more than some murder trials – before Judge Armitage and a further three days in this court; and about half a million pounds has been spent in costs. It is almost as though Lord Woolf and other civil procedure reformers over the years have laboured in vain.

LORD JUSTICE CHRISTOPHER CLARKE

As to the latter the enmity between the parties has caused them to incur costs and to use up the time of the courts (to the detriment of other litigants) to an extent grossly disproportionate to what was at stake. If parties, or one of them, insist on litigating in this way, it is difficult for the court to cut short their wasteful endeavours, however much it may try to do so. I hope that the example of this litigation may encourage others who are concerned in like disputes (and, as importantly, those who advise them) to take every step that they can to avoid the absurd waste of effort, time and cost (for both parties) which this case has involved.

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