£761.50 of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s costs application rejected in Saughall Massie Fire Station information request case by First-tier Tribunal
Well, I finally got the costs decision from the First-tier Tribunal today in which I was the Appellant.
This continues from an earlier blog post about the hearing which ended with the Tribunal, MFRA, ICO and myself agreeing that I should receive the information.
Merseyside’s Fire and Rescue Authority’s costs application of £1,212 has been rejected by the Tribunal. Although the decision also refers confusingly to a total amount of their costs application of £1192.23.
Two out of the three Tribunal Members (although it doesn’t specify which two) don’t think I acted unreasonably in the period 4th August 2016 to 22nd August 2016. This means £224.66 of MFRA’s costs application is rejected by a majority decision of the Tribunal of 2:1.
Of the remaining £967.57, a further £467.57 is rejected.
This leaves £500.
Basically the argument about the £500 is this.
In late August 2016 following a request from the Tribunal, I stated to MFRA that if they were to provide me with the 4 A4 pages requested, I would be happy for the case to be ended by consent order.
MFRA chose not to end the case this way (although I did receive the 4 A4 pages from ICO on the 14th October 2016). I was sent an altered version of the 4 pages from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority about 48 hours before the hearing.
Therefore because MFRA had legal costs from 22nd August 2016 to 23rd September 2016 this is what the application is about.
However in the decision the Panel admit that they agreed to MFRA’s costs application at the hearing before they had actually read the bundle for the hearing.
Indeed the fact they hadn’t read the bundle for the hearing before making decisions on costs is recorded in the reasons for the decision itself. Is it reasonable to expect the judiciary to read the papers before reaching a decision?
In fact the wording of the decision implies the panel members were put to great inconvenience by having to read the bundle and travel to the hearing itself!
There are legal arguments I could make as to why this £500 costs award shouldn’t have been made in the first place, but I will not reveal those until the matter is settled.
I feel pretty confident that the £500 will be overturned on appeal and I intend to appeal it within the time limit for doing so. Certainly the majority (£761.50) of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s costs application has already been rejected.
I notice that somebody has put the wrong case number on the decision which shows the Tribunal’s ongoing flair for accuracy!
In my view there are errors of fact in the decision, but I have to bear in mind this costs application from an organisation that stated it wished to have the legal power to charge people for making FOI and EIR requests.
It’s managed to achieve that now with a costs order for £500, although estimates of the legal costs for First-tier Tribunal cases are usually at around £10,000 for the public body involved.
The bit in the decision about a decision being made on the papers, I don’t remember being made at the hearing (although I will check my notes). In my view a hearing might have avoided some of the misunderstandings that have obviously arisen.
I’ve asked the Tribunal to reissue the costs decision with the correct case number (EA⁄2016⁄0054 rather than EA⁄2016⁄0117).
Does anyone wish me to include a copy of the decision in this blog post?
Tomorrow evening Wirral Council’s Planning Committee will be making a decision on the Saughall Massie fire station planning application.
There are matters that came out during the Tribunal which I will publish on this blog that as they relate to the expenditure of a total of £8.4 million of public money I’m staggered that the Tribunal would write in its decision, that the First-tier Tribunal case “has involved costs to the public quite disproportionate to its significance or the matters in issue.”
Clearly the significance of the issue (in my eyes) is that MFRA told untruths to the public during its consultation to get the answers it wanted and refused to tell the public it had put aside £300,000 to pay Wirral Council for the land at first Greasby, then Saughall Massie.
Those untruths in the consultation have now formed part of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s planning application.
Indeed there are some that would argue that the invoices for £153,250.61 of work before planning permission is obtained have involved costs to the public too!
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