Okon v London Borough of Lewisham (Bean LJ, Asplin LJ, Court of Appeal, 31 October 2017)

Lewisham petitioned for the appellant’s bankruptcy on the basis of liability orders arising from unpaid council tax. The appellant applied to set aside the liability orders on the basis her tenants were liable for the unpaid tax. Shortly before the bankruptcy order was made, the appellant realised that she was required to appeal to the valuation tribunal. She also appealed the bankruptcy order. The appeal was listed for one day but ran into two. On the second day the appellant, for the first time, raised an issue as to the jurisdiction of the valuation tribunal. Following the hearing, the parties were invited to submit further written submission on the jurisdiction argument. The Judge allowed the appeal on the jurisdiction point and set the bankruptcy order aside. However, he found that the appellant’s case had narrowed to one issue which had not been presented until late on the second day. If her case had been presented appropriately from the start, time and expense would have been saved. He thus made no order as to costs.

The appellant argued that the Judge’s departure from the normal rule was unjustified as her conduct had not been exceptional and that there was nothing unusual in handing up authorities throughout the hearing. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. The Judge had a wide discretion under CPR 44.2 and had regard to all the circumstances, including the appellant’s conduct. The appellant had to show that the Judge had made an order that was outwith his discretion. He had not done so. The appellant had failed to narrow issues until a late stage of the hearing, thereby lengthening it and requiring further written submissions and increasing expenses. No order as to costs was within the Judge’s discretion.