QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURT
B e f o r e :
|THE QUEEN ON THE APPLICATION OF HARRY A COFF LIMITED||(CLAIMANT)|
Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited
190 Fleet Street London EC4A 2AG
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838
(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
MR ATKINSON (instructed by ENVIRONMENT AGENCY) appeared on behalf of the DEFENDANT
Crown Copyright ©
"knowingly caused controlled waste to be deposited on land at Sandford Farm ... when there was not in force a waste management licence authorising the said deposit".
In relation to section 59, it is alleged that the defendant had:
"failed without reasonable excuse to comply with a requirement in a notice dated 19th April 2001 to remove that controlled waste from the land".
"I do not recall the precise amount applied for but I do recall that it was well in excess of £6000.
"As the application concerns the public purse I took the view that the court had a responsibility to consider such an application on behalf of the defendant against whom a prosecution had been dismissed, but not to grant an application that was unreasonable and not to allow costs that reflect extravagance."
"a) The amount sought was unreasonable on its face. The defendant was claiming, for part of a case, more than double the amount claimed by the prosecution for the whole case against ... Michael Coff.
"b) [The company] did not own the land on which the waste had been deposited or have any interest in it. Clearly the prosecutor had made a mistake in identifying the correct defendant. However, since the summonses were issued in identical terms for both defendants, the corporate defendant was never in any danger of being convicted. It was, as I understand it, never in any real jeopardy of such an outcome. Incurring costs of such magnitude was, I therefore consider, quite unreasonable.
"c) Michael Coff was the directing mind of [the company]. I think that Harry was Michael's father and the interests of this family company and Michael Coff are identical. As Michael Coff owned the land personally, he was the appropriate person to summons. However, because the two are effectively one and the same and the charges were identical -- even if I am wrong that [the company] did not need to incur costs -- any work done on behalf of [the company] would also be relevant to Michael Coff. As Michael Coff was guilty he should not be able to recover costs through the sidewind of apportioning them to the company. As the amount is so large I drew the inference that that was precisely what was occurring.
"d) I saw a letter written by the prosecution to [the company] about the position of the ownership of the land. As I recall it was not addressed to the defendant Michael Coff but was replied to by him. He replied by saying that 'our Company does not own any land on Sandford Farm'. Bearing in mind that he owned the land himself I thought this economical with the truth. It illustrates that the two parties were effectively the same.
"e) I refused the application on the basis that the large amount claimed was unreasonable and extravagant; that [the company] stood in no danger of conviction and that any costs incurred reasonably were minimal. I believe that any costs incurred by [the company] would have essentially been relevant to the case of the guilty defendant who should not receive reimbursement from the public unjustifiably."
The District Judge added:
"In finding these facts I drew inferences that I felt were appropriate. I paid particular attention to what I regarded as the extremely high amount of costs applied for in the simple and short case of [the company] when compared to the prosecution costs for the whole case."
"i) [The company] sought an unreasonable amount of costs out of central funds in relation to a prosecution against them that was dismissed on 4th July 2002.
"ii)These costs were not legitimately incurred as any work done on behalf of [the company] would also be relevant to Michael Coff.
"iii)Michael Coff misled the Environment Agency with regard to who owned the land at Sandford Farm, Woodley.
"iv)Furthermore, having been convicted of the offences himself Michael Coff sought reimbursement through the family company.
"and accordingly I refused the application for costs made on behalf of [the company]."
The case stated then posed the single question for this court, namely:
"Whether the District Judge was wrong in law in refusing to make a costs order in favour of [the company]."
"a) Mr Coff was the directing mind of the company...
"b) The interests of Mr Coff and [the company] are identical...
"c) Mr Coff and [the company] are effectively one and the same...
"d) If an order were made in favour of [the company], Mr Coff would be recovering costs through the sidewind of apportioning them to the company...
"e) Any costs incurred by [the company] would have been relevant to the case of Mr Coff ..."
"Where a magistrates' court dealing summarily with an offence dismisses the information; that court ... may make an order in favour of the accused for a payment to be made out of central funds in respect of its cost ('a defendant's costs order')."
Section 16(6) provides:
"A defendant's costs order shall, subject to the following provisions of this section, be for the payment out of central funds, to the person in whose favour the order is made, of such amount as the court considers reasonably sufficient to compensate him for any expenses properly incurred by him in the proceedings."
Section 16(7) sets out the circumstances in which the court can assess the amount of costs in the absence of agreement. It is in these terms:
"Where a court makes a defendant's costs order but it is of the opinion that there are circumstances which make it inappropriate that the person in whose favour the order is made should recover the full amount mentioned in subsection (6) above, the court shall -
"(a)assess what amount would, in its opinion, be just and reasonable; and
"(b)specify that amount in the order."
"(a)the defendant's own conduct has brought suspicion on himself and has misled the prosecution into thinking that the case against him is stronger than it is.
"(b)there is ample evidence to support a conviction but the defendant is acquitted on a technicality which has no merit."