An unnamed local authority has been granted a partial costs award against a father who claimed damages relating to the adoption of his daughters.
He had previously taken his local authority to court complaining that it had allowed his children to be known by the surname of prospective adopters before any adoption order had been made. His Honour Judge Meston found in favour of the father, saying that social workers had acted unlawfully in allowing the premature change. Nevertheless, he rejected the father’s demand for damages of £60,000, saying a declaration that the local authority’s behaviour had been wrong would be sufficient.
The father was also unsuccessful in an application for leave to appeal the adoption orders themselves.
The question of costs then arose. The father sought £5,000 from the local authority to cover his expenses and time, including:
“…researching the appropriate legislation with regards to case law and Family Court procedures and self representation at Court because [the] Council as a Public Authority violated [the father]’s Article 6 [European Convention on Human Rights] Rights as contained in the Human Rights Act 1998 by refusing to pay for him being represented by a Solicitor/Barrister so as to ensure a Fair Trial.”
He later repeated the claim for £5,000 in slightly different terms, but still seeking financial recompense for the time and effort devoted to his case.
The authority, meanwhile, £4,035 against the father, on the grounds that he had rejected an offer of £1,500 to settle the case out of court (a so-called ‘Part 36 offer’, as defined by the Civil Procedure Rules).
This meant that the authority was theoretically entitled to costs from the date at which the father formally rejected their settlement offer. Set against that, however, was the fact that the court had ruled that the authority had acted unlawfully, something which it had not conceded.
In the Family Court at Bournemouth, Judge Meston concluded that the father had been unreasonable in the conduct of his case. His application for a large damages award had been unrealistic, as had his attempt to oppose the adoption orders that were eventually made. He had not used the council’s own complaints procedure and pursued the case in an attempt to win more more money from the authority than they had already offered him.
“These proceedings appear to have become part of a determined campaign by the father against the local authority. He pursued his claims by making serious, wide-ranging and essentially unjustified allegations of bad faith and misconduct against the local authority and against individual employees of the local authority; and he remained quite unwilling to accept the explanations and evidence of the local authority as to how and why the children were allowed to use the surname of their prospective adopters.”
Therefore he dismissed the father’s claim for costs in favour of the council’s. But, in recognition of the court’s declaration, it would, the Judge declared, be awarded only 75 per cent of its costs from the date when the father rejected their settlement offer. However, he added:
“As the claimant father is without means the order will provide that it is not to be enforced without leave of the court.”
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