A panel of judges has lamented a ‘depressingly unfortunate dispute’ that took 10 days in court and racked up around £500,000 in costs.
The Court of Appeal heard in November a case involving a landowner in Cheshire who disputed a boundary and right of way issue with his neighbour.
Appeal judge Sir Stanley Burnton described the relationship between Richard Gilks and Adrian Hodgson as ‘toxic’ after the row over a second entrance access to Gilks’ property.
Burnton upheld an appeal from Hodgson on the boundary dispute and rejected one on right of way.
But the judge and his two colleagues on the bench each expressed their dismay at the litigation process involved.
‘The costs so far approach half a million pounds, far more than the value of the rights involved,’ said Brunton. ‘It is a dispute that could and should have been compromised on terms that both parties could live with.’
He said the judicial time of determining the issues following the trial was greatly increased by the ‘regrettable’ lack of time for the judge to write his judgment until several months after trial.
The judge had to be assisted by the transcripts, which added to the costs of the case.
Lord Justice Bean, agreeing with Burnton’s judgment, described the case as a piece of ‘Dickensian litigation’.
He noted the award of damages was just £3,500 and that the disputed strip of land did not even constitute the sole means of access to anyone’s home.
‘At a time when the courts are under great pressure, the battle between these two couples took up 10 days of court time – more than some murder trials – before Judge Armitage and a further three days in this court; and about half a million pounds has been spent in costs.
‘It is almost as though Lord Woolf and other civil procedure reformers over the years have laboured in vain.’
Lord Justice Christopher Clarke joined in to point out the enmity between the parties had allowed a ‘grossly disproportionate’ amount of court time to be taken.
He noted that if parties, or one of them, insist on litigating in this way, it is difficult for the court to cut short their ‘wasteful endeavours’, however much it may try to do so.
‘I hope that the example of this litigation may encourage others who are concerned in like disputes (and, as importantly, those who advise them) to take every step that they can to avoid the absurd waste of effort, time and cost (for both parties) which this case has involved.’