It is difficult for the court to stop parties litigating in a grossly disproportionate way if that is what they want to do, the Court of Appeal said yesterday in a case it described scathingly as “Dickensian” in the way costs were run up.
Gilks & Anor v Hodgson & Anor  EWCA Civ 5 was a neighbour dispute over a boundary and a right of way.
Giving the lead judgment, Sir Stanley Burnton said “the costs so far approach half a million pounds, far more than the value of the rights involved. It is a dispute that could and should have been compromised on terms that both parties could live with. The trial took 10 days, and even then some issues… were left undecided”.
Lord Justice Christopher Clarke said the enmity between the parties had caused them to incur costs and to use up the time of the courts, to the detriment of other litigants, “to an extent grossly disproportionate to what was at stake”.
He continued: “If parties, or one of them, insist on litigating in this way, it is difficult for the court to cut short their wasteful endeavours, however much it may try to do so. I hope that the example of this litigation may encourage others who are concerned in like disputes (and, as importantly, those who advise them) to take every step that they can to avoid the absurd waste of effort, time and cost (for both parties) which this case has involved.”
Lord Justice Bean said: “I only add how dismayed I have been by this Dickensian litigation. The disputed strip of land and right of way do not constitute the sole means of access to anyone’s home. The award of damages to Mr & Mrs Gilks was £3,500.
“Yet, at a time when the courts are under great pressure, the battle between these two couples took up 10 days of court time – more than some murder trials – before Judge Armitage and a further three days in this court; and about half a million pounds has been spent in costs. It is almost as though Lord Woolf and other civil procedure reformers over the years have laboured in vain.”
Geldards acted for the claimants and Ralli for the defendants.