22 March 2019 - Article
On 13 March 2017, Withers successfully defended a money claim for a charity client in the County Court. The claim was for alleged breach of contract with a supplier and valued at less than £3,000. The facts were not in dispute. The issue was simply whether the supplier was entitled to charge a fee in the circumstances – a matter of interpretation of the contractual clause.
At the final hearing, the judge rejected all of the claimant's arguments. Unusually, the judge also awarded the charity its legal costs, principally for counsel's fees which were not part of the pro-bono arrangement. Such costs are not usually recoverable for low value claims, save where a party has acted unreasonably. Having anticipated a successful outcome to the claim, we had taken a number of practical steps to put the charity in a position to recover costs – such as writing to the claimant ahead of the hearing setting out the issues with the claim and warning that costs would be pursued if the claim was defended successfully.
Whilst the inherent risk in any litigation means that it is sensible to consider settling a claim for a reasonable figure, it can be difficult for charities to justify doing this when claims have no or little perceived merit.
This case illustrates that, where it is not possible to settle the matter cost effectively, it may be worth pursuing the matter to a hearing and applying for costs if appropriate. In this instance, we acted on a pro-bono basis as we felt very strongly about our client's position. If you are facing a similar situation, we would be happy to discuss the claim with you and offer guidance as to the process and in some cases will act on a pro-bono basis.