A marathon dispute between two warring solicitors has taken another turn, with a costs decision overturned in the Court of Appeal.
In Deepchand & Anor v Sooben, Lord Justice Arnold ruled that Anbananden Sooben should pay the costs his opponents incurred in resisting his own costs application to the court. Sooben’s application had been refused but the High Court initially made no order as to costs: Arnold LJ reversed that decision on the basis that Sooben could be determined as the unsuccessful party.
The long-running litigation stems from 2013, when Ramkuran Deepchand gave an interview to the newspaper Mauritius Now (both Sooben and Deepchand are of Mauritian background) alleging that Sooben had attempted suborn or procure him to commit perjury.
Sooben issued libel proceedings against the newspaper editor, who was represented by Lambeth Solicitors (where Deepchand was a trainee at the time) and was awarded £70,000 in damages following trial.
The latest costs dispute follows Sooben’s decision not to pursue the editor for costs. Instead he applied, without prior notice, for Lambeth Solicitors and Deepchand to be jointly and severally liable for the £50,000 costs of making the claim.
Following a directions hearing in February 2019, Mr Justice Nicklin decided not to embark on the exercise of determining Sooben’s application because it could not be done proportionately.
Nicklin made no order as to costs, stating there had been ‘no winner’ and the court was not in a position to adjudicate where the truth lay between two very different accounts.
Lambeth Solicitors and Deepchand appealed this decision, arguing that Sooben had tried to make them liable for £50,000 costs but had failed.
Arnold LJ said the judge was wrong to suggest there had no winner on the costs application: Sooben was ‘indisputably’ the unsuccessful party and had not achieved what he sought.
Arnold LJ added: ‘If the application cannot be determined proportionately, then it should not be made. This supports, rather than undermines, the proposition that Mr Sooben should be responsible for the costs of making an abortive application.’
He further noted that if Sooben had any issue with the conduct of Deepchand in working on a case in which he had a personal interest, this was a matter for the regulator and not a factor in any costs decision. Sooben will pay the full costs of resisting his application, to be assessed by the court.