A paralegal has played a key role in securing a significant costs ruling at the High Court.
Alistair Williams, senior paralegal at Bates Wells Braithwaite, challenged a costs order imposed by Norfolk Magistrates’ Court against a walker who complained about a blocked right of way.
Mr Justice Collins said Mr Wheeler applied to Norfolk County Council, under section 130 of the Highways Act 1980, to get an obstruction blocking a footpath removed.
Collins J said the local authority took the view that there was “no unlawful obstruction”, so the walker exercised his right to apply to the magistrates’ court.
The court rejected the application and made a costs order against Mr Wheeler in favour not of the defendants in the case, Norfolk County Council, but in favour of the person originally accused of obstructing the path, a Mr Dixon.
“The justices took the view that they had a wide power to award costs to the interested party, that is to say the person allegedly responsible for the unlawful obstruction,” Collins J said.
However, the judge said it was “clear beyond any doubt” from section 64 of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 that the only power the court had was to “make orders for costs between the parties to the case who are either complainant or defendant”.
Collins J went on: “It is not such as enables the court to make any order in favour of the person who I have described as the interested party – that is to say, the person who has a right to be heard if he wishes as the alleged obstructor of the highway in question.
“In those circumstances, the decision of the justices was clearly wrong. They were not entitled to make an order against the appellant, Mr Wheeler, in favour of Mr Dixon. In those circumstances, this appeal must be allowed and that order quashed.”
Lord Justice Beatson agreed.
Mr Wheeler is a member of the Ramblers. Mr Williams acted for him and helped advise the charity, which backed the appeal to the High Court. He was supervised by partner Melanie Carter and associate Matthew Orme.
A spokesperson for Bates Wells Braithwaite said Mr Williams, who completed the bar vocational course in 2012, had identified the limit on the powers of magistrates’ courts to award costs.
The paralegal commented: “It was an exciting opportunity to lead on a case for well-known client and I am really pleased with the outcome. I have a personal commitment to the Ramblers, being a walker myself.
“It is an important charity that represents the rights of walkers, and this legal clarification should encourage others to use their rights with less fear as to the cost implications.”