‘Truly horrendous’: Lord Woolf on asylum test case

Lord Woolf damned the legal costs in three asylum law test cases as “truly horrendous” and claimed that they had no prospects of success.

In Anufrijeva v Southwark London Borough Council, the Lord Chief Justice dismissed three cases, including one brought by the Anufrijeva family, who sued the London Borough of Southwark, alleging that they had been provided with inadequate housing. Vladimiras and Ala Anufrijeva came to the UK with their three children and an elderly mother who was very ill with cancer in 1998. The family said the council’s failure breached their right to a respect for private and family life under the Human Rights Act.

It is reported that their eight-day High Court trial cost around £112,000 and the bill for the three unsuccessful cases was in the region of £250,000. “When the total costs of both sides are looked at, including the appeal, the figures are truly horrendous, and the situation is made even more worrying by the fact that all the parties are funded out of public funds,” said Lord Woolf. He also ruled that the appeal had “no prospect of success”. Despite the adverse criticism of the case in the press, Lord Woolf noted that the fact remained “that the costs in the court below of both sides were unconscionably high and out of all proportion to the issues at stake”.

The case has been depicted in the press as an abuse of public funds, but solicitor Ole Hansen, who represented the Anufrijeva family, defended the action. “Southwark accepted their accommodation was unsuitable, didn’t do anything to find somewhere more suitable and then took eviction proceedings without promising to house them elsewhere,” he said. The only way to secure his clients’ possession was by a judicial review, he argued.

“At the first hearing Southwark were ordered to provide somewhere suitable, and 11 months later when the old lady died they still hadn’t done so,” he said. “In the meantime, we’d been back to the courts five times, and each time, the night before or that morning at the door of the court, they’d come up with another property,” he said. Each time the property was either unsuitable or the offer withdrawn.

“In the light of that, we considered that they had not complied with their duty under the Community Care Act and their breaches were so serious they interfered with the right to a family life, guaranteed in the Human Rights Act,” he concluded.