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What are Costs?

Updated on January 23, 2010

Costs, in legal actions are the costs of bringing or defending an action and include lawyer's fees, the cost of documentation, and the fees of expert witnesses.

In criminal cases, under English law both the magistrates' court and the Crown Court have power to order a successful prosecutor or a successful defendant to recover his costs from the unsuccessful party. In addition to the Crown Court, the Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court and the Court of Appeal (when either is hearing criminal appeals) have power to order either the prosecutor's or the defendant's costs to be paid out of central funds. The practice is for the costs of a successful defendant to be paid out of central funds unless: (1) the prosecution was spiteful, when the prosecutor should pay; or (2) the defendant has brought the prosecution on himself by misleading the prosecutor; or (3) there is ample evidence to support a conviction and the acquittal is technical only; or (4) the defendant is convicted on another count of the indictment.

In civil actions, under English law costs normally follow the event, i.e. the unsuccessful party must bear both his costs and those of his opponent, although the judge has a discretion to make other orders as to costs in suitable cases. In the High Court costs are ordinarily awarded on a 'party and party' basis, which allows the successful party to recover only those costs which are absolutely necessary for the attainment of justice. More generous bases for costs are allowed where the costs are paid out of a common fund (e.g. in an action involving a will or a trust fund) or have been incurred by a trustee or an executor as such. Unless the costs are agreed, the bill of costs is 'taxed' or scrutinised by a taxing master. In the county court, costs are awarded on one of five scales, depending on the size of the claim. When a litigant is legally aided his costs are either wholly or partially borne by the Legal Aid Fund.


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