No.3 of 2002
Walbrook Properties Ltd v Severn Trent Water Ltd &
5 February 2002
Mr Justice Norris sitting without Assessors in Birmingham
The Claimants brought proceedings against three defendants, all part of the same group, claiming damages initially pitched at £16 million for damages for lateral trespass, unauthorised excavation, vertical trespass and occupation by gas extraction in relation to a quarry controlled and/or owned by one or other of the defendants in Staffordshire.
The third defendants contended that on the proper construction of the deeds they never had any interest in the quarry, and ought never to have been joined in the proceedings. Ultimately, but only after expensive and protracted discovery, the claimants accepted that contention, and discontinued as against the third defendants. The claimants were given leave by the District Judge in Birmingham to substantially amend (and in fact to reduce the quantum of) their claim, on the basis that the costs of that exercise should be paid by the claimants forthwith.
The action was proceeding in the Birmingham District Registry, but ultimately that court directed that the assessment of these two bills should take place in the SCCO in London.
The defendants used a well known City firm, who were the regular solicitors for the third defendants, the Plc, which was the holding company, and were charged City rates accordingly. The claimants disputed their liability to pay City rates, contending that the case had no real connection with London, and that Birmingham rates should be applicable. They conceded that the case was of such a size and complexity that a team of fee earners would be required, but contended that there were several such firms in Birmingham, one of whom in fact regularly did work for the first defendants.
The Costs Judge found in favour of the claimants, and awarded costs at Birmingham rates, and the defendants appealed. The Costs Judge provided voluntary written reasons, setting out in considerable detail the basis upon which he had come to his conclusion, reviewing the relevant cases.
The Judge, whilst holding that the Costs Judge had not clearly enunciated the principles applicable, had nevertheless taken into account all the appropriate factors and weighed them appropriately in the balance, and that accordingly his decision should not be interfered with, and the appeal was accordingly dismissed.