First day back at court today. It has not gone well so far...
Your correspondent is in the robing room quietly stewing, having arrived at nine o'clock for a ten o'clock hearing (halo in hand) that isn't in fact until noon. Courtserve : We Heart You. Hashtag NOT.
In truth it began to unravel long before then as I lay in bed shivering at midnight realising the radiators weren't working because they haven't been bled, and listening to the wind tear bits off my house like a child demolishing a lego build (house still standing this morning but it didn't sound like that at the time - there is a large tree-bush affair next to the garage that thumps loudly on it whenever its windy. It's right next to my window...)
And then even the emergency suit turned out to be too small. Can't imagine how that happened *cough*. I blame Cadbury's Roses.
So all in all my arrival here by 9 o'clock, with papers and wearing a suit that still buttons up was a pretty epic achievement. Needless to say I am overjoyed to find it a wasted journey.
As I sat down in the robing room to get some work done (hurrah for PCU Wifi which is now working in our court building), having carefully stretched my laptop charger across the floor from the in-floor plug bar to the not very close to it desk (especially positioned to create a trip hazard it seems - yes I have left my comment in the comments box pointing this out) an email pinged into my inbox. A DFJ is finding that the LAA are refusing to meet the costs of parents attending hearings unless there is an order directing their attendance. Yes, that is refusing to enable parents (who often have no income because they can't work and their benefits have been stopped when their kids were taken) to get to hearings at which their childrens' whole future is to be decided. Doesn't it make you just furious? Anyway, the solution to this is apparently to include a standard direction in CMOs now saying that parents must attend. This makes me even more grumpy than I ever so slightly was before receiving the email. FPR 27.3 provides that :
Unless the court directs otherwise a party shall attend a hearing or directions appointment of which that party has been given notice.
What is so difficult to understand there? Parents need to be at hearings about their children. They'd need to be there even if FPR 27.3 didn't exist and even if a kindly DFJ didn't try to help out by repeating the rule in all their orders (The LAA's own guidance acknowledges that travel expenses ought to be met by them and not the client - even where the client is a bit hopeless and loses their travel tickets). And that the LAA refuse to acknowledge this (they must know its true really - surely?) is a symptom of how our system has lost sight of the need to do real justice rather than just box tick or offer a ritual daily saving at the altar of proportionality.
Personally, I don't think we should pander to this computer says no mentality. We should challenge this nonsense and say THERE DOESN'T NEED TO BE AN ORDER YOU MUPPETS. Again and again until they get it.
Plus, if the LAA doesn't pay their travel expenses how will they ever get to stroke the stress-dog before their children are adopted?
2018, you suck so far.
Right, grump over. I'm off to write a book...
The Civil Finance Electronic Handbook that I linked to above says this at page 72 (I hadn't spotted it before - I was looking at page 58) :
The rules for payment of funded client travel expenses differ depending on the situation.
- Attendance at court: The funded clients travel expenses will be paid where it is reasonable for the client to attend court. The guidance states this is as a witness of fact and we would expect to see justification as to why this is considered reasonable. These same principles apply for third parties who are required to attend court as a witness of fact.
- Travel to attend experts: These are paid where it was necessary for client to attend the expert and where the client cannot afford to pay for visiting the expert (the client is impecunious). When considering whether the costs should be allowed we would need to consider the cost of the travel, distance to the expert and the method of travel.
Where travel costs are payable we should consider the most reasonable form of travel, this is usually public transport. Any travel by taxi will require justification. [my emphasis]
The Costs Guidance referred to is here and that says that the costs of travel to court other than as a witness of fact will be assessed at the end of the case (page 7-8, 26-28). Although in places it appears to suggest that travel expenses other than as a wtiness of fact will never be payable, it does say this :
- The usual principles as to reasonableness and proportionality apply. If it was unreasonable for the client to attend the hearing in furtherance of his or her case, for example because the hearing was an interim hearing where the client’s presence was not strictly necessary, then the disbursements would not normally be allowed.
So on that basis the costs of attendance at a hearing other than a final hearing / to give evidence ARE claimable, but they have to be reasonable. There will of course be cases where it really isn't necessary for a client to attend a hearing, but they will be in my view pretty few and far between - which is no doubt why the FPR have, since the year dot, set out a default position that they should come to court.
If this really is a growing problem (and according to the grapevine I know it is) then I would like to think that someone will do something about it and challenge the LAA on their guidance. It's tough for solicitors if they are continually shelling out and then not being paid, but even tougher for clients whose solicitors say they can't afford to take the risk (I've met some of each, I don't criticise either). Perhaps one of the representative bodies can take this up with the LAA?
Right. Now it's time for my hearing.