In September 2016 at Exeter Crown Court, two defendants represented by Adam Vaitilingam QC were awarded all of the costs they had incurred in successfully defending a regulatory prosecution. Such awards are extremely rare, following the Government’s shameful decision in 2012 to prevent successful defendants from recovering their costs from central funds. Today, defendants who pay privately for their defence can only recover any significant costs where the prosecutor has made a ‘clear and stark error’, and it is the prosecutor who is then ordered to pay the costs.
In this case – Dartmoor National Park Authority v Roberts and Oursin – the defendants were facing civil and criminal proceedings over the same subject matter. The judge decided that this was oppressive, and that insufficient thought had been given to whether it was really in the public interest for the criminal proceedings to be brought. He also ruled that at least one of the hearings – at which the prosecution asked for an adjournment – had been unnecessary, causing the defendants to incur wasted costs, and that the prosecution had failed to obtain and serve evidence in accordance with court orders. Although the prosecution conceded that it should pay some of the defendants’ wasted costs, the court went further and ordered them to pay them all.