Appeals Procedure: Appeal by way of case stated against magistrates’ order relating to assessment of compensation (Taylor and another v Burton – 2021)
In this appeal by way of case stated – an appeal to the High Court directly from the Magistrates’ Court concerning matters of law and the exercise of the magistrates’ jurisdiction – the High Court considered the magistrates’ assessment of costs and compensation.
In Taylor and another v Burton , Mrs Turner was the owner of a property managed by agents on her behalf. The tenant was dissatisfied with the condition of the building and brought a nuisance claim in the magistrates’ court under s.79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The damp problem at the property was resolved during the proceedings and the parties agreed that the nuisance had been abated, leaving only the tenant’s application for compensation outstanding.
Magistrates concluded that the nuisance, for which the landlord was responsible, had existed at the time of the application. An application to adjourn the matter was refused, and the court sat later to hear the compensation quantum submissions. The magistrates reduced the compensation owing to the tenant, and the landlords (Mrs Taylor and her agents) were to pay half each of the remaining sum of £29,079.80. The landlords brought an appeal in the High Court by way of case stated, on the grounds that the magistrates did not have the jurisdiction to make the order.
The High Court considered 4 key issues:
- Whether the landlords were liable for the nuisance claimed, and whether the magistrates enjoyed jurisdiction to make the order under the Environmental Protection Act 1990;
- Whether magistrates had failed to consider proportionality of costs incurred and therefore whether there had been an error in law in assessment of costs to be paid by the landlords;
- Whether magistrates had failed to give sufficient reasoning for their decision; and
- Whether to allow the landlords’ appeal and find that magistrates had erred in ordering a payment of compensation to the tenant’s solicitors.
The Court found on each point:
- The landlords’ appeal was dismissed. This point turned on its individual facts and the magistrates had evidence from both parties to consider. There was no jurisdictional or other error made by them in making a decision based on this evidence.
- The landlords’ appeal was allowed on this point. The magistrates had had limited materials at its disposal to make its decision when assessing quantum, and the fairness of the decision warranted consideration by the High Court, which concluded that the magistrates had – as a minimum - explained its decision insufficiently. Parties were entitled to an understanding as to how the quantum sum had been decided.
- The magistrates had satisfied themselves as to the evidence, concluding that the tenant had not been responsible for the nuisance and that the landlords had not been prevented from carrying out repairs. As a result, the landlords’ defence had failed. The High Court found that the magistrates’ finding in favour of the tenant was sufficient.
- The landlords’ appeal was allowed, finding that the magistrates had erred in law when making an order for compensation to be paid to the tenant’s solicitors; there was insufficient indication that magistrates approached the assessment of quantum properly. The lack of a clear factual or evidential basis presented difficulty for the High Court in assessing whether there had been defects in the magistrates’ decision-making processes or defects in the drafting of the case stated.
Advice and action for landlords
The outcome of the landlords' appeal is a point of practice guidance for cases brought in the Magistrates’ Court, in particular the assessment of quantum of compensation. There had been insufficient indication presented that the magistrates had taken a proper approach to quantum assessment, and the magistrates had also erred in law when ordering compensation to be paid to the tenant’s solicitors.
When considering the points and materials presented to the magistrates, the High Court could be satisfied that key facts had been missed by the magistrates in its decision, particularly regarding proportionality of the claims and the landlords’ means.
There had been insufficient indication presented that the magistrates had taken a proper approach to quantum assessment.