Costs awards in Children cases

Re: S (A Child) [2015]

Supreme Court allows Local Authority’s appeal against costs order

The Justices unanimously held that the principle confirmed by the Supreme Court In re: T (Care proceedings costs) [2012] (the need to establish reprehensible behaviour or an unreasonable stance) before awarding costs in children’s proceedings applied to this case/appeals.

Father’s appeal against an order placing child for adoption without consent. COA ordered the local authority to pay the father's costs of the appeal. Father had incurred legal costs assessed in the sum of £13,787.  COA ordered the local authority pay costs because.

1) It had resisted the appeal

2) In order not to deter a parent from challenging decisions which impact on the most crucial of human relationships.

3) Principle in re T was not applicable to appeals.

Local Authority appealed to the Supreme Court in relation to the costs order only, and on the basis that whatever the outcome, it would not seek to recover the costs awarded and paid to the father. 

Held: the general practice of not awarding costs against a party, including a local authority, in children's proceedings, in the absence of reprehensible behaviour or an unreasonable stance, applies. Local Authorities should not be deterred from their statutory duty to protect children by bringing proceedings.

In re T was different from this case but distinctions not material. The general rule that in civil proceedings the unsuccessful party will be ordered to pay the costs of the unsuccessful party does not apply to first instance or appellate proceedings about children. For many years the practice in such proceedings has been to make no order in the absence of exceptional circumstances. No one should be deterred by the risk of having to pay the other side's costs from playing their part in helping the court achieve the right solution. Funding arrangement irrelevant. Parents are always entitled to resist the claim of the state to remove their children from them, but it does not follow that the local authority is unreasonable in seeking to protect the child if it loses. 

On an appeal different considerations will apply when assessing whether a party has acted unreasonably but the principle is the same. 

The object of the exercise is to achieve the best outcome for the child.

In this case, no argument that the local authority had behaved in any way reprehensibly

None of the exceptions to the general approach to awards of costs in children cases applied in this case and the appeal was therefore allowed. 

 

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