Alistair Williams, senior paralegal at Bates Wells Braithwaite (BWB), recently acted pro bono for the Ramblers charity, which was representing the rights of its walkers in a dispute over rights of way. Under the supervision of partner Melanie Carter and associate Matthew Orme, Williams led the case to the High Court, where, with barrister Richard Moules, new law was established to protect ramblers from paying excessive and often costly legal fees in future disputes.
Ramblers often apply to local councils to have obstructions to footpaths removed. In the instant case, the council refuted the claims that itself or a third-party landowner were causing any obstruction and as such refused to act upon the claim. The matter went to the magistrates’ court where they agreed with the respondent that the council had no obligation to act with costs yet to be determined.
The central Ramblers office then approached BWB and Alistair Williams to advise on the matter of legal costs. Throughout the case, both the council and a third-party property owner had accrued costs and the magistrates’ court announced that the member of Ramblers who made the application would be responsible for all parties’ fees.
However, Williams identified a strong point of law: while a magistrates’ court is able to award costs to either a complainant or a defendant, statute does not allow the allocation of third-party costs. As such, BWB advised the Ramblers’ member through to the High Court where, represented by Moules from Landmark Chambers, it was successful in its appeal. Consequently, this critical decision will ensure that, going forward, no third-party costs will have to be covered by complainants in right-of-way disputes.