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Newman v Southampton City Council & Ors [2020] EWHC 2148 (Fam)

Consideration of costs following disclosure and permission to appeal

This case concerned costs and an application for permission to appeal arising out of the substantive decision of the court in Melanie Newman v Southampton City Council, AB, TR and M (a child) (through her Children's Guardian) [2020] EWHC 2103 (Fam). In the preceding case, Ms Newman, a professional journalist, applied for a disclosure order to enable her to see the court file and other materials relating to a set of public law care proceedings, which concluded in October 2018. Refusing access to the entire file, Mrs Justice Roberts allowed limited disclosure, namely access to expert reports and assessments relating to the child's mother, position statements, and case summaries produced in the proceedings.

In the subsequent case, all the parties and the court agreed that there should be no order for the costs of the substantive application for disclosure; however, the local authority sought an order for costs in respect of the redaction and copying of the documents to be disclosed. Whilst Ms Newman agreed to meet the costs of the copying exercise, she opposed to meeting the costs of redaction. It was argued on her behalf that a costs order in respect of the redactions was "wholly disproportionate" both in relation to the work which needed to be undertaken and her ability to meet those costs having regard to her means [14]. Weighing all of the factors of the case in the balance, the Judge ordered Ms Newman to pay the costs of the copying exercise, limited to £45 per hour plus VAT, but made no order in relation to the costs of the redaction exercise; these were to be met by the local authority.

Having dealt with the issue of costs, Mrs Justice Roberts considered Ms Newman's application to appeal the substantive decision. Ms Newman sought permission on three grounds, namely that insufficient weight was given to the following: (i) the mother's consent to the release of documents and her purported waiver of the child's Article 8 rights; (ii) the "bifurcated" approach she adopted to her application; (iii) the information which was already in the public domain when assessing the weight to be afforded to the rights of this child to a private family life. In essence, as noted by Roberts J, all three grounds were part of the same challenge: that the court reached the wrong conclusion in terms of the ultimate balancing exercise.

Mrs Justice Roberts held that Ms Newman's appeal did not have a real prospect of success, nor was there any other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard. She was satisfied that she had conducted "an appropriate and fact-specific balancing exercise" [25], taking into account the existing jurisprudence, as well as the ongoing "transparency review" [26]. She therefore dismissed the application for permission to appeal her decision.

Summary by Bianca Jackson, , barrister Coram Chambers

Read the full judgment of Newman v Southampton City Council & Ors (COSTS and PTA) [2020] EWHC 2148 (Fam) on BAILII