Supreme Court too costly for Labour members?

16 August 2016

A group of Labour members have dropped their case against the party organisation over who can vote in the upcoming leadership election, citing the costs of an appeal to the Supreme Court.

But the Court itself told the BBC that the cost is far less than the members seem to think:

"The Supreme Court said it would cost about £1,000 for the case to be heard.

Ms Fordham had said it would cost about £8,000 "for getting the case even heard", but it was not clear if she was also referring to lawyers' fees."

This reference to an £8,000 cost had since been removed from the Labour members' crowdfunding website. The Supreme Court told us that it was trying to make sure that the normal costs of a hearing wouldn't apply in this relatively urgent case. We've corrected an earlier version of this article that didn't reflect this.

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Justice doesn’t generally come cheap

The Court of Appeal refused to give permission for the Labour members to challenge its decision against them in the Supreme Court. That means they would have had to ask the Supreme Court directly.

As reported, the application would have cost £1,000. The Supreme Court told us that this would likely have been the only fee to apply in this case.

Normally, once permission to appeal had been granted, the appellants’as the Labour members would be termedwould then have had to ‘file notice’ that they were actually going ahead with it.

They'd then send in documents to help the judges understand what the case is about. Those two steps cost £800 and £4,820 respectively.

In a typical case, it’s only after these steps have been taken and paid for that the appellant gets a date for the case to be argued in court.

So getting the case to the point where the Court is ready to hear it would cost at least £6,620and that’s just the administration fees.

But in this instance, the Court says that there would have been a "rolled up" hearing, condensing the various stages together. So the cost would probably have only have been the initial £1,000.

It’s impossible to say how much the legal fees would have been. That partly depends on how much work is involved, which will have been affected by the urgency of this case.

In addition, the Labour members have had some done at reduced rates and pro bono (for free) already, so might not have paid full fees for the Supreme Court work either.

But the Court’s guidelines say that appellants can expect to pay a lawyer £1,250 for preparing the application for permission to appeal. Assuming they use a more senior Queen’s Counsel (QC), it’s another £150 for the notice that the appeal is going ahead, £4,500 for putting together the court documents, and £15,000 for preparing and delivering the actual legal argument.

There can also be other charges for things like conferences (meetings with the client about the case).

That doesn’t include the cost of ‘junior counsel’ to pitch in, at roughly half the QC’s rate. Nor does it include the cost of solicitors, whose Supreme Court guideline rates range from roughly £100 to £400 an hour.

It’s easy to see how those kinds of costs could be off-putting, especially given that the case has already eaten up £100,000the reported cost of lawyers on both sides in the High Court and Court of Appeal.

Again, though, the way this particular case was handled means that not all these fees will apply in this particular case.

There may be another explanation for the case being discontinued at this point. The Court of Appeal unanimously rejected the members’ argument for four different reasons, leading one legal commentator to describe it as “almost appeal-proof”.

Correction 16 August 2016 

We clarified that this particular case would not have attracted the normal level of fees of a typical Supreme Court case, following clarification from the Court.

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