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Seven applications to intervene in Coventry costs battle

Lord Neuberger [1]

Lord Neuberger: Suggested human rights could have been breached

The Supreme Court will next month hear seven applications to intervene in a case which raises the question of whether the previous system of recoverable conditional fee success fees and insurance premiums was unlawful.

Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, suggested in Coventry v Lawrence No2 [2014] UKSC 46 this summer that the old regime could have breached the European Convention on Human Rights [2], with “very serious consequences for the government”.

However, the court said that if the respondents in the case wanted to persevere with their argument, based on rights to a fair trial under Article 6, the case would have to be relisted for a further hearing so notice could be given to the justice secretary and Attorney General.

A spokesman for the Supreme Court said last week that the case was provisionally listed for 9-12 February 2015 and the justice secretary was among those seeking to intervene.

He is joined by the Law Society, the Bar Council and Burford Capital, the ATE insurer in the case. Burford has instructed Lord Pannick to represent it and seven other QCs are named as acting for interveners.

The other would-be interveners are the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, and the Association of Business Recovery Professionals (R3). The asbestos and insolvency groups represent two areas of litigation where the LASPO changes do not currently apply.

“The interveners’ written applications will be considered by a panel of justices in mid-January,” the Supreme Court spokesman said. “The justices will decide how any oral representation will be divided between the interveners.”

Richard Buxton, solicitor for the claimants in Coventry, said: “Our expectation is that pre-2013 system will not be found to be unlawful.

“We believe the current system is in fact worse than the previous system because it prevents access to justice completely for many people. The ATE now required by claimants is very expensive and the cost is irrecoverable, so it’s win or lose – and if you lose, you’ve had it.”

Mr Buxton added that the claimants in Coventry could not “conceivably” have proceeded with their case if the current arrangements were in force.