COST BITES 143: JUDICIAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE COSTS OF FAMILY LITIGATION DISPUTES: KING LEAR IS A TRAGEDY AND ALL WILL NOT END WELL

There have been two cases recently where the courts have made comments about the costs of litigation in disputes between family members.  Whilst the participants may each think themselves more sinned against than sinning, it is always prudent to consider the costs involved.

 

“Love’s not love When it is mingled with regards that stand Aloof from th’ entire point.”

The first we are looking at is the observations of HHJ Paul Matthews in  Heyes & Anor v Holt [2024] EWHC 779 (Ch) an inter-family dispute.

HHJ Paul Matthews

  1. The proceedings are between a daughter and her husband on the one side, and her mother and her father’s estate, supported by the daughter’s two siblings, on the other. It is a tragedy for all concerned. This is not only because it splits a family, pitting a parent and two children against another child in a dispute about family property, like a modern-day King Lear. It is also because the costs budgeted for are significant in proportion to the value of the property concerned. The approved costs budget for the claimants is £442,015.85, and that for the defendant is £331,230. Together, they amount to £773,245.85, plus applicable VAT of perhaps £154.649.17, making a total of £927,895.02. Of course, in deciding whether to order summary judgment, the court will not be influenced by the cost or length of a full-scale trial: see for example Three Rivers District Council v Bank of England (No 3) [2003] 2 AC 1, [264]; Duchess of Sussex v Associated Newspapers Ltd [2021] EWHC 273 (Ch), [15].

“This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.”

Next we look at the observations of Lord Peter Jackson in Procter v Procter & Ors [2024] EWCA Civ 324, another inter-family dispute.

 

  1. I add a word about the future. Even after two substantial trials and two substantial judgments on appeal, these parties still have to engage in the valuation process provided for by the judge. We were told that disputes continue about the basis of valuation and about interest. Before those go any further, I hope the parties might reflect on what this sad family breakdown has cost them already (and I speak only in financial terms). When we asked, we were told that the legal costs of the proceedings leading to the 2022 judgment and to this appeal already exceed £850,000. If the costs of the proceedings leading to the 2019 judgment and appeal are added, the total costs are very much higher than that. Whatever the value of a quarter share in the AHA tenancy, the cost of further litigation about it is likely to be disproportionate. These assets were built up by the grandparents and parents for the benefit of their children. The older generations may have had an aversion to paying tax, but the younger generation’s litigation habit is at least as great a threat to the family’s hopes. The remaining disputes cry out for mediation.