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England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Decisions >> Solutia UK Ltd v Griffiths & Ors  EWCA Civ 736 (26 April 2001)
Cite as:  CP Rep 92,  EWCA Civ 736,  PIQR P16,  2 Costs LR 247,  CPLR 419
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COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)
ON APPEAL FROM THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
(Miss Barbara Dohman QC
sitting as a Deputy Judge of the Queen's Bench Division)
Thursday, 26th April 2001
B e f o r e :
LORD JUSTICE MANCE
SIR CHRISTOPHER STAUGHTON
|SOLUTIA UK LIMITED|
|(formerly known as Monsanto Chemicals UK Limited)|
|- v -|
|ANTHONY RYLAND GRIFFITHS|
|and all those persons listed in the Schedule to the Statement of Claim (totalling 165)|
of Smith Bernal Reporting Limited
190 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2AG
Telephone No: 0171-421 4040
Fax No: 0171-831 8838
Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
MR. J. MORGAN (instructed by Messrs Leigh Day & Co., Clerkenwell) appeared on behalf of the Respondent.
Crown Copyright ©
"I am happy with the basic calculation of the hours spent by you and your assistant on the basic rates charged."
"On a taxation of costs on the standard basis there shall be allowed a reasonable amount in respect of all costs reasonably incurred, and any doubt which the taxing officer may have as to whether the costs were reasonably incurred or were reasonably allowed shall be resolved in favour of the paying party..."
"The cause of action arose in North Wales. There was on the face of it no direct connection with London. However Leigh Day had been involved in an incident two years previously and were known to CARE, an independent organisation, who recognised the expertise which Leigh Day were able to offer on environmental matters. Proceedings had been issued in London County Court for an earlier wave of claimants.
On the submissions made to me none of the claimants had expressed dissatisfaction with solicitors they had initially instructed. The change over appears to have been caused by the advantage of a wholly co-ordinated approach to Monsanto.
The defendants have submitted strongly that Leigh Day canvassed the claimants and it was not a case of the claimants making an independent approach to Leigh Day.
With the claimants based in North Wales and the solicitors situated in central London there was no easy accessibility to them. It would be necessary for the solicitors to come to North Wales.
A retainer letter was written to each claimant which ran to four pages. Information was provided on the basis for charging.
Having considered the ringbinder of correspondence and other material, the narrative in the introduction to the bill, the skeleton arguments of the claimants and the defendants and the submissions made by the solicitors I have reached the conclusion that the submissions made by the defendants' solicitors are to be preferred. Stripping away the hyperbole from the narrative to the bill and the extensive claims to expertise by the firm and the partner in particular, I have reached the conclusion that this case could have been handled competently by another firm in the West Midlands or the North West or possibly in Cardiff. It required some expertise in environmental law and in personal injury claims. It did require administrative ability to keep track of the progress in each case but it did also concern several households. That is apparent from the schedule of names and other details contained at the back of the bill of costs. The conclusion which I have reached reflects the extracts from the judgment of Lord Justice May in Sullivan v Co-Operative Insurance Society. He referred to the case having no obvious connection with London being a relevant factor especially if the case did not require expertise only to be found there. He also considered that the judge's reasons substantially overstated the scope and difficulty of the case. Leigh Day recognised that the individual claims were not large when inviting me to look at the totality of the damages rather than the sums of compensation received by each individual. There was no dissatisfaction with local solicitors which warranted transfer of instructions to solicitors at a considerable distance away. The symptoms of the individuals concerned and the sums received by each of them reflects modest claims. Ms Moore made a reference to the difficulty in obtaining legal aid in relatively modest claims for damages and costs in item 2 below. The case is distinguishable from Truscott. I have already indicated that waves 1 and 2 could have been handled by solicitors outside London.
The claims themselves proceeded on the basis of the order dated 12 June 1998 where the generic and lead issues were dealt with in respect of no more than ten lead claimants with up to five claimants being chosen by the claimants' solicitors and up to five claimants being chosen by the defendants' solicitors. At the end of the day the action was one of modest proportions which did not in my judgment require the instruction of London solicitors in a case which had no direct connection with London and where solicitors outside London were available to deal with it. The defendants' solicitors have therefore succeeded in their submissions under this head on the facts of this case."
"I have experienced considerable hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the costs judge was wrong. However, I do consider that he was wrong in focusing on the question whether other solicitors could competently have handed the claims, and in failing to attach sufficient weight firstly to the extra complexities of a group action, which this was, and secondly the advantages presented by Leigh Day & Co acting, in the light of their expertise in such group actions and in light of their previous successful action for the two groups from the same village. ...
In my judgment it was clearly reasonable for these claimants to have instructed Leigh Day & Co in October 1995, when they did so, and the claimants' appeal therefore succeeds. It is not relevant to a decision in October 1995 to look and see what happened later, but it is noteworthy that the respondents themselves instructed Eversheds, a premier national firm, as well as leading counsel (which Leigh Day & Co on behalf of the claimants did not do)."
"The first ground for interference speaks for itself. The epithet 'wrong' is to be applied to the substance of the decision made by the lower court. If the appeal is against the exercise of a discretion by the lower court, the decision of the House of Lords in G v G (Minors: Custody Appeal)  1 WLR 647 warrants attention. In that case Lord Fraser of Tullybelton said, at page 652:
'Certainly it would not be useful to inquire whether different shades of meaning are intended to be conveyed by words such as 'blatant error' used by the President in the present case, and words such as 'clearly wrong', 'plainly wrong' or 'simply wrong' used by other judges in other cases. All these various expressions were used in order to emphasise the point that the appellate court should only interfere when they consider that the judge of first instance has not merely preferred an imperfect solution, which is different from an alternative imperfect solution which the Court of Appeal might or would have adopted, but has exceeded the generous ambit within which a reasonable disagreement is possible.'"
"In relation to the first question 'Were the costs reasonably incurred?' it is in principle open to the paying party, on a taxation of costs on the standard basis, to contend that the successful party's costs have not been 'reasonably incurred' to the extent that they had been augmented by employment of a solicitor who, by reason of his calibre, normal area of practice, status or location, amounts to an unsuitable or 'luxury' choice, made on grounds other than grounds which would be taken into account by an ordinary reasonable litigant concerned to obtain skilful, competent and efficient representation in the type of litigation concerned ... However, in deciding whether such an objection is sustainable in practice, the focus is primarily upon the reasonable interests of the plaintiff in the litigation so that, in relation to broad categories of costs, such as those generated by the decision of a plaintiff to employ a particular status or type of solicitor or counsel, or one located in a particular area, one looks to see whether, having regard to the extent and importance of the litigation to a reasonably minded plaintiff, a reasonable choice or decision has been made."
"Litigants are entitled to engage any lawyer they choose, and from a subjective point of view the choice may be entirely reasonable, but the question is to be judged objectively. The fact that a case has no obvious connection with London is a relevant factor, the more so if the case does not require expertise only to be found there."
"When exercising its power under paragraph (5) the court must have regard to -
(a) the amount of the dispute; and
(b) the costs which the parties have incurred or which they may incur."