Appeal Court slashes costs in covid19 case

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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THREE Appeal Court judges have slashed in half the costs awarded in one of the covid19 habeas corpus cases against the director of the Caura hospital in 2020.

The ruling of Justices of Appeal Nolan Bereaux, Maria Wilson and Ronnie Boodoosingh also provides guidance on the award of costs in habeas-corpus cases.

The case involved an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a mother and her child after they were quarantined at the Caura hospital in April 2020. Their applications were filed on April 15, 2020 and withdrawn two days later when new pandemic regulations gave the chief medical officer the power to quarantine someone once they tested positive for covid19.

The mother and her daughter had filed two separate claims.

The judge hearing the applications had ordered Dr Michelle Trotman, as hospital director, to pay costs. Two assistant registrars did separate assessments and Trotman was ordered to pay $125,770 in the first assessment and $149,194.50 in the second. 

The State appealed the costs order in favour of the child. This appeal was upheld and the $125,770 slashed to $43,185. The other cost order for the higher sum was not contested or appealed.

In the ruling, delivered by Boodoosingh, the judges set aside the assistant registrar’s order on costs and allowed the State’s appeal. They also set aside a previous order by a solitary Appeal Court judge denying the State permission to appeal. Boodoosingh said despite the fact that the State did not get the registrar’s permission to appeal the ruling, he should have considered whether there were genuine issues to be determined. 

In pursing the appeal on costs, the State had argued there were double payments, since the matters were a mirror of each other, and the award was therefore excessive and inconsistent with other costs awards in habeas-corpus cases.

Boodoosingh said consideration should be given to what would be fair and reasonable when assessing costs for such cases.

“I would observe that when cases are related, it makes sense that one costs assessor should ordinarily undertake the assessment of all the cases, since he or she would know what has been allowed and disallowed and can make allowances and adjustments to yield a fair, reasonable and proportionate result.

“Even if cases are filed separately, there is no reason in principle why the same judicial officer ought not to deal with them, at least when it comes to the assessment of costs. Attorneys ought to bring the related case to the attention of the relevant costs assessor at the material time.”

Boodoosingh said nothwithstanding the heavy workload of trial judges, they remained best placed to assess costs at the end of a hearing.

“The judge is seized of the matter, knows the case, and would have a good gauge of the likely time that would have been reasonably spent on the case by the attorneys, and the circumstances of the application, inclusive of the merits.”

He provided guidelines for an assessment of costs for habeas-corpus matters. He also said from the cases presented on cost awards, they showed “a wide disparity” in the costs assessed “which cannot be satisfactory from the perspective of the judicial system.

“A balance has to be struck.”

The State was represented by attorneys Ryan Grant and Nairob Smart. Gerald Ramdeen and Dayadai Harripaul represented the mother and daughter at the habeas-corpus hearings before Justice Ricky Rahim in April 2020 and in the appeal.