Lay litigants forced into actions cannot recover costs, court rules


A lay litigant who is wrongfully obliged to institute or defend legal proceedings cannot recover any costs because of the current state of the law in Ireland, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The court rejected a claim by brothers Albert (63) and Dudley (59) Dawson, who traded as insurance brokers, that they were entitled to costs of preparing their lengthy court litigation.

The Chief Justice, Mr Justice Keane, giving the court's decision, said it might be thought it was unjust that a person who had been wrongly obliged to institute or defend proceedings should be unable to recover any costs for time spent in the preparation of their case.

However, this was a matter for the legislature alone to redress, he said. It was noteworthy, when the legislature came to clarify the powers of a taxing master in respect of taxation of costs between opposing parties, it had expressly refrained from changing the law.

He said the exercise by a citizen of right of access to courts would no doubt be facilitated by making some provision for the recovery of such costs.

The court was giving judgment in an appeal by Mr Albert Dawson, of Goatstown, Dublin, and Mr Dudley Dawson, of Raheny, Dublin in relation to a defamation action taken by the brothers against the Irish Brokers Association.

There were four separate trials of the proceedings in the High Court before a judge and jury. In the last hearing, the Dawsons were awarded damages of £135,000.

The brothers, who appeared in person in all of the trials, were awarded costs of the proceedings.

When the costs issue came before a Taxing Master, he held the brothers were not entitled to recover costs on the same basis as a solicitor for preparatory work undertaken by them prior to the trial. The High Court upheld the Taxing Master's decision on this issue and set aside another finding of the Taxing Master to allow the Dawsons a fee of £7,000 for advice furnished to them by solicitors.

The High Court findings were yesterday upheld by the Supreme Court.