A High Court judge has declined to comment at first instance on whether Sir Cliff Richard’s costs in his claim against the BBC were disproportionate.
Incurred costs in the singer’s case – which was settled in May – amount to more than £1.1m. The BBC, one of the defendants alongside the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police – invited the judge at a costs management hearing to label them ‘excessive and disproportionate’.
In Richard v The British Broadcasting Corporation, however, Chief Master Marsh, sitting in the High Court Chancery Division, agreed the court had a discretionary power to comment on incurred costs before the detailed assessment, but this was not binding on a costs judge and on this occasion he favoured a ‘degree of caution’.
Marsh said he did not have enough information to give an informed opinion, concluding it was ‘quite impossible’ for the court to form any meaningful view at such an early stage.
He added: ‘If the court wishes to record a comment that the incurred costs are ‘excessive’ or they are ‘unreasonable and disproportionate’ it will wish to be sure that the comment is made on a sound footing, rather than impression.’
Marsh dismissed the BBC’s submission there was a danger that the costs judge at a future hearing would proceed on the basis that costs were already considered reasonable and proportionate.
‘There is no significant benefit to be gained in the court making the sort of anodyne comment that the BBC proposes,’ added Marsh. ‘A comment is not a finding of fact, but merely a matter to be taken into account.’
Significantly, Marsh ruled that Richard’s costs could be declared ‘exceptional’ and the cap on costs budgeting could be lifted.
The singer had taken legal action against the BBC and the police force over coverage of a raid at his home in Sunningdale in August 2014.
The case against him, in which he was investigated over historical sexual assault allegations, was dropped last year.
The BBC has already stated its concern at the costs incurred during the proceedings. Marsh’s judgment, published today, confirms pre-action costs total £526,437 and pleadings costs are £324,611.