Commentary - Court of Appeal shows its hand on intervention powers

The Coal Handling Agreement was designed to provide a system whereby claimants who were formerly Bri...

The Coal Handling Agreement was designed to provide a system whereby claimants who were formerly British Coal Corporation employees and who had been exposed to vibration could receive compensation without the trouble and expense of court proceedings.

In AB and others v British Coal Corporation and others (Department of Trade and Industry) 2006, the Court of Appeal has provided useful clarification of the source and extent of the supervisory judge's powers under the CHA and the extent of the judge's powers to deal with claims allegedly stalled by the defendants.

It confirmed that the CHA was intended to confer very wide powers on the court. While this was not formal group litigation, the CHA should be read in the light of the Civil Procedure Rules and the overriding objective. Accordingly, the supervising judge has the power to make a financial award in cases where claims have been stalled.

The Court of Appeal also considered whether solicitors acting for claimants under the CHA were entitled to claim a success fee. It was held the word 'costs' in the CHA should be given the meaning it currently has in the CPR, which therefore permits the possibility of the court ordering a success fee. The court indicated that the level of such success fees might vary depending on the complexity and difficulty of particular cases.

The Court of Appeal has therefore shown the courts will intervene to ensure arrangements such as the CHA operate as intended, and will impose sanctions on a defaulting party.

Furthermore, even though success fees are not mentioned in the CHA, the court has interpreted the 2005 agreement as allowing them.

These law reports are contributed by national law firm Berrymans Lace Mawer (

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