A county court has disallowed a court fee after finding the claimant had failed to apply for remission. District Judge Jenkinson, sitting at Liverpool County Court, ruled in Stoney v Allianz that the £455 fee was not a disbursement reasonably incurred and was not recoverable.
The ruling, albeit from a lower court, is likely to send a shudder through those personal injury firms that automatically treat court fees as disbursements in the expectation they will be recovered.
The court in Stoney heard that the claimant’s solicitors, Liverpool firm Coyne Learmonth, accepted no application for fee remission was ever made, despite the unemployed claimant probably being eligible. The firm explained in court that its individual business model was to act for claimants on the basis it would fund all disbursements, including the court fee, on their behalf. They would not seek recovery from the client provided the client bought an ATE policy which would reimburse disbursements.
The firm contended that the fee exemption regime exists to facilitate access to justice for claimants who could not otherwise afford to pay the court fee. It would even be misleading the court to complete a form based on a financial inability to meet the court fee, when the fee was effectively funded on the claimant’s behalf.
The defendant contended the court fee was unreasonably incurred because the claimant would have been entitled to a fee remission and could have avoided paying it.
The judge stressed he approached the issue by reference to basic well-established principles. He pointed out the application form did not ask about legal expense insurance or whether a solicitor was acting, so it had to be assumed court fees were the claimant’s costs. By not applying for remission, that cost was not reasonably incurred.
The judge added: ‘I can fully understand that it is perhaps an unpalatable submission on behalf of a defendant’s insurance company that the court fee which has been necessarily incurred as a consequence of the negligence of their insured, should be borne not by them but by the state.
‘However, if that position is felt to be wrong as a matter of principle, it is in my judgment a matter for the rules committee or for parliament to address.’
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