In an appeal arising out of the case of Fullick & Bacchus v The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, the court ruled that the costs incurred by the claimants, in respect of the inquest into the death of the subject of the civil claim, including pre-inquest hearings and the costs involved in the inquest were recoverable as costs of the claim.
The case involved the death of Susan Jones who became ill at a police station which she had attended voluntarily as a witness to a crime. She did not recover and died in hospital eight days later.
The claimants are the deceased’s two daughters and her sister. The claimants instructed solicitors and an inquest was held lasting seven days. There was an initial pre-inquest hearing attended by representatives of the claimants following which disclosure by the defendant and the London Ambulance Service took place. Subsequently protective court proceedings were commenced and stayed pending the outcome of the inquest. A second pre-inquest hearing then took place.
At the inquest, the jury delivered a narrative conclusion that the deceased’s death resulted from methadone and alcohol intoxication coupled with inadequate police policies, procedures and training.
Without service of a letter of claim or particulars of claim, the claim was settled for just over £18,000. In addition, all the costs of and related to the inquest were awarded as costs in the civil claim.
What to takeaway
In this case, the two inquest pre-hearings and the inquest identified issues of concern to the civil claim such as the position in which the deceased had been left, lack of appropriate safeguards for victims like the deceased and expert evidence on causation.
The key point for practitioners to note is that, if steps taken in inquest proceedings are relevant to the civil claim, then those costs would be reasonably recoverable. In addition, if early admissions can be made and a claim settled before an inquest then those costs can be avoided or reduced.
Equally, practitioners cannot assume that the fact that the claim settled before the issue of a formal letter of claim and prior to the service of proceedings, would mean that the costs incurred in and related to an inquest in which issues are relevant to a contemplated civil claim are not recoverable.
The acid test for deciding whether costs incurred before the relevant civil proceedings (in which the costs are claimed) are recoverable is:
“…whether those prior steps were of use and service in the proceedings, were of relevance to an issue and to attributability of the defendant’s conduct to the claim.”
A word of caution: each application for costs in a civil claim and related to an inquest must be determined on its own facts. You have been warned !