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London Mayor Ken Livingstone is facing criticism after racking up legal costs totalling at least £36,000 from Reading law firm Pitmans for work relating to a permission hearing
A case was brought by a Wembley resident seeking permission to apply for a judicial review to challenge a mayoral decision not to intervene in a planning application to Brent Council by Bellway Homes. The claimant lost and the Mayor's legal team sought to recover costs, but was denied by George Bartlett QC sitting in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court. The costs racked up by the Mayor are causing a stir, not least because he used a non-London firm. According to the Government Court Service's guidance on the summary assessment of costs, Pitmans' charges are above the average chargeout rates for non-London solicitors based in the South East. Pitmans' hourly rates were £240 for a consultant, £260 for one partner, £275 for a second partner, and £225 for an assistant. Between them, a total of 55 hours was spent looking at documents. Paul Stookes, chief executive of the Environmental Law Foundation, which initially referred the claimant to law firm Richard Buxton, said: "It would be interesting to see how this bill reflects best value requirements." He is also concerned that such large bills would "instil fear" into any community group wanting to challenge a planning decision. "Even though there is a theoretical right for judicial review in environmental matters, the UK justice system doesn't really provide access to an independent tribunal as required by the Human Rights Act," said Stookes. "My concern is that any access to justice must not be prohibitively expensive." Both the Mayor's office and Pitmans rejected the criticisms.