Coventry v Lawrence (No. 3)
|Coventry v Lawrence|
|Court||Supreme Court of the United Kingdom|
|Full case name||Coventry and others (Respondents) v Lawrence and another (Appellants)|
|Argued||9-10 & 12 February 2015|
|Decided||22 July 2015|
|Neutral Citation|| UKSC 50|
|Prior action(s)|| EWCA Civ 26|
|The Access to Justice Act 1999 scheme is compatible with Article 6, ECHR.|
|Majority||Lords Neuberger, Mance, Dyson, Sumption and Carnwath|
|Dissent||Lady Hale and Lord Clarke|
|Area of Law|
|Costs in English law; Right to a fair trial|
The residents' lawyers acted under a conditional fee agreement also more commonly known as 'no win no fee'. They eventually won the case and the stadium owner was ordered to pay 60% of the other sides costs. This included not only their base costs but also a success fee and an After-the-Event (ATE) insurance premium. In this case the stadium owner did not challenge his liability to pay the base costs but argued that his liability for both the success fee and ATE premium would infringe his article 6 (right to a fair trial) and/or article 1 of the first protocol (right to the peaceful enjoyment of one's possessions) rights.
- To contain the rising cost of legal aid.
- To improve access to the courts for claimant with meritorious claims.
- To discourage weak claims.
In spite of this the European Court of Human Rights held in MGN Ltd v UK (2011) 53 EHRR 5 that the scheme had a number of flaws that made it incompatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Lord Neuberger gave the leading judgment of the court and held that the present case is not about the flaws of the Access to Justice Act 1999 but rather whether it is a proportionate way of achieving the aims set out by Lord Bingham. With this in mind Neuberger held that:
|“||64. In our judgment, there is a powerful argument that the 1999 Act scheme is compatible with the Convention for the simple reason that it is a general measure which was (i) justified by the need to widen access to justice to litigants following the withdrawal of legal aid; (ii) made following wide consultation and (iii) fell within the wide area of discretionary judgment of the legislature and rule-makers to make.||”|
It was noted that there is no scheme that will perfectly provide access to justice in the wake of the withdrawal of legal aid from most civil cases yet the European Court of Human Rights acknowledges that any such scheme may still be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights even where it operates harshly in certain individual cases. Overall the Access to Justice Act 1999 provides a "rational and coherent scheme for providing access to justice" that is compatible with the Convention.
Lord Clarke (with whom Lady Hale agreed) gave a dissenting judgment that suggested the Access to Justice Act 1999 was not compatible with the Convention because it discriminated between defendants and imposed heavy liabilities on some but not others.
Reacting to the judgment David Greene said:
|“||As a claimant lawyer I welcomed the finding but I felt disappointed that after all this time and angst the court said “no change”, notwithstanding that it was the Supreme Court that seemed to start this hare running. The judgment is fascinating reading but the whole process has been somewhat of a damp squib.||”|
Others have considered the potential impact if the minority judgment had been successful:
|“||It is salutary to note that two members of the Supreme Court would have struck down a regime on which a significant section of the legal sector had relied and would have held that there was no legitimate expectation that that regime would continue to obtain. That would, in turn, have led to the extreme repercussions discussed in my previous columns, effectively putting many firms in the very vulnerable position of relying on success in a class action against the government.||”|
- European Convention on Human Rights
- Human rights in the United Kingdom
- 2015 Judgments of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
- Costs in English law
- Coventry v Lawrence  UKSC 13
- Hayes, Lucy (16 March 2015). "Case preview: Coventry & Ors v Lawrence & Anor UKSC 2012/76". UKSC blog. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
- "Coventry v Lawrence: Supreme Court Rules for the Status Quo". Horwich Farrelly Solicitors. 22 July 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
- Underwood, Kerry (23 January 2015). "Coventry: a costs calamity in waiting?". New Law Journal. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
- Callery v Gray  UKHL 28, 
- MGN Ltd v UK (2011) 53 EHRR 5
- Coventry v Lawrence (No 3)  UKSC 50
- Coventry v Lawrence (No 3)  UKSC 50, 
- Coventry v Lawrence (No 3)  UKSC 50, 
- "COVENTRY V LAWRENCE, OR LESSONS FROM A NEAR MISS: A PRACTICAL VIEW FROM THE BAR". Littleton. 14 August 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
- Greene, David (30 July 2015). "To Coventry & back—a damp squib?". New Law Journal. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
- "How insurers' position is affected by yesterday's news on Coventry v Lawrence and even higher court fees". DWF Insurance. 23 July 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015.