The embattled UK Independence Party has been ordered to meet part of the legal bill of a successful libel claim against one of its MEPs in a rare third-party costs order. Handing down judgment in Sir Kevin Barron & Ors v Jane Collins MEP and United Kingdom Independence Party  EWHC 253, the Hon. Mr Justice Warby, judge in charge of the Media and Communications List, granted an application by three claimants in a libel action against Jane Collins MEP.
The application followed a claim that Collins had defamed three Labour MPs in a speech to UKIP's 2014 party conference accusing them of knowingly failing to intervene in cases of child abuse in Rotherham. In February last year she was ordered to pay £358,000 in damages and costs after parting company with her lawyers and applying to vacate an earlier offer of amends under the Defamation Act 1996.
Following Collins' failure to pay, the claimants announced that they would pursue UKIP for costs, on the grounds that they had learned that the party had financially supported Collins and influenced the conduct of her defence. They invoked s51 of the Senior Courts Act 198, which grants a court 'full power to determine by whom and to what extent the costs are to be paid'.
In total, the claimants served a bill of £669,605.68, which included after-the-event insurance premiums, VAT and success fees.
UKIP argued that any award would be unjust because it had not sought control of the litigation and the main concern of its support had been to seek settlement. Meanwhile Collins' 'obvious determination to defend the claims' meant that the defendants had been put to no extra expense by UKIP. Jonathan Swift QC of 11 King's Bench argued that the power to make a costs order is exceptional and should be made only where the non-party's conduct renders the order just and reaonable.
Warby found that while UKIP had no responsibility for the speech generating the libel claims, it had taken a 'deliberate, informed and calculated decision, for reasons of party political advantage' to ensure the case was not settled before the May 2015 general election. This 'very probably did thereby prevent a settlement that it had been advised should be made'. He found UKIP to be jointly and severably liable with Collins for costs incurred by the claimants following that decision.
William McCormick QC, instructed by London firm Steel & Shamash, appeared for the claimants. Jonathan Swift QC and David Bedenham, instructed by UKIP, for UKIP. Jane Collins MEP did not appear and was not represented.