Council ordered to pay redaction costs

8th September 2020

The High court has ordered Southampton City Council to essentially fund redactions of care proceedings documents that had been requested by Ms Newman, a journalist, in an application which the Judge said could have been decided differently “were Ms Newman to have behind her the financial resources of a large media organisation such as the BBC or one of the major press organisations.”

Prior to the application, the Judge (Roberts J) had directed that material from care proceedings which had been requested by Ms Newman should be disclosed to her. Ms Newman was in the process of researching for a potential story, which was the reason for her disclosure request. However, the council sought its costs of copying and redacting the documents, to be capped at £1,200 +VAT.

This sum was assessed by the council on the basis that it considered that it would take the solicitor with conduct of the case up to 10 hours to redact the material at an hourly rate of £95; and a further charge in respect of an administrative assistant to copy and collate the 283 pages at an hourly rate of £45.

Redaction costs opposed

However, Ms Newman opposed to paying for the redaction costs, although offered to pay the copying costs. This was because Ms Newman claimed that the full costs sought by the council would have been prohibitive to her as an independent freelance journalist and were therefore disproportionate to her financial situation.

Roberts J took Ms Newman’s personal financial situation into account when considering the application and agreed that an order that she cover the full costs sought by the council would render the whole exercise nugatory.

This is the first reported case following the Supreme court decision in Cape v Dring [2019] UKSC 38 last year; where the court emphasised the principle of open justice and confirmed that the ‘default position’ should be that the public can obtain access to court documents.

Taking this into consideration, as well as the fact that Ms Newman did not have an employer who may have paid the council’s full costs, it appeared likely that the disclosure request would be abandoned due to costs that would have been prohibitive to Ms Newman. This could have had the effect of nullifying the investigation and preventing the publishing of a story that may have had public interest, which would have been against the principles of open and transparent justice endorsed in Cape.

Costs for the council

In the circumstances, Roberts J ordered Ms Newman to pay only the copying costs at £45 per hour; where the redaction costs were to be borne by the council.

This decision re-affirms that costs related to disclosure are decided on a case by case basis and may be dependent on the financial circumstances of the party requesting disclosure (noting the Judge’s comments regarding how the application may have been decided differently had the disclosure request come from a large media organisation).

Case: Newman v Southampton City Council and others (Costs and PTA) [2020] EWHC 2148 (Fam) (5 August 2020) (Roberts J).

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