If you have to go to court don’t wind up the judge

David Little, Partner in Bishop & Sewell’s Corporate and Commercial Team

His Honour Judge Paul Matthews caused a stir recently by ticking off the parties in a costs judgment for “behaving in an ultra-aggressive and uncooperative way towards each other” which was “not conducive to the efficient conduct of the litigation.” It’s rare for a judge to make such comments, writes David Little, a Partner in the Corporate & Commercial team at solicitors Bishop and Sewell.

The case involved Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA), in a dispute against Dr Craig Wright, a computer scientist who claims he was the creator of Bitcoin.

Following a preliminary hearing the judge ruled the COPA was the “overall” successful party but said it was “highly undesirable” for parties to argue over costs “as if they were the main issue”. This “modern kind of satellite litigation is pernicious,” said the judge, and has the, “effect of diminishing overall justice, and thus gives English civil procedure a bad name.

“The problem is that this case is an example of what I would (unhappily) call bad-tempered litigation, which is regrettably becoming more and more prevalent in the English courts. It somehow seems to have become acceptable for solicitors to become mere mouthpieces for their clients to vent their anger at their opponents. It is not enough for the clients to dislike or even hate each other: the solicitors must do so too. I simply do not understand why in 2022 professional, trained lawyers, who should know how to stand up to their clients, and concentrate instead on what is important in the litigation, think it is appropriate to behave like schoolchildren in the playground.

“I am sorry to be old-fashioned, but, when I started in practice, this kind of thing just did not happen. The losing party accepted liability for the costs, and the receiving party only rarely argued for indemnity costs. (Summary assessment had not then been introduced.) Nowadays, it seems, losing parties nearly always argue that they should not pay the costs at all (I do not know when was the last time I heard counsel use the phrase “I cannot resist that”), and winning parties nearly always argue that costs should be on the indemnity basis.

“This modern kind of satellite litigation is pernicious. In my view it has the effect of diminishing overall justice, and thus gives English civil procedure a bad name. Costs decisions (other than detailed assessment of the actual amounts involved) are supposed to reflect the broad justice of the case. They are therefore intended to be merely the tail to the dog, and not the dog itself.”

The full judgment can be viewed here.

David Little is a Partner in Bishop and Sewell’s Corporate & Commercial team. Should you require any further advice or assistance, please contact him quoting reference CB285 on +44 (0)20 7079 4143 or email: [email protected]

About Bishop & Sewell LLP
Bishop & Sewell is a long-established, full service Central London law firm – with an international reach – specialising in Personal, Property and Commercial legal matters. To learn more, visit www.bishopandsewell.co.uk