Appeals court spares City of Hamilton from paying legal costs
The City of Hamilton has been spared the brunt of legal costs in its fight against the Government over the future of the municipality.
While the Court of Appeal last year gave the green light to the Municipalities Amendment Act, which would replace elected councils with appointed quangos, they declined to order that the municipality must pay the legal costs of the Government.
In a decision released this week, Sir Christopher Clarke, the president of the Court of Appeal, wrote the issues debated were “plainly constitutional” and raised questions of wide public importance.
“The Corporation of Hamilton could, no doubt, afford the payment of the costs of the respondents, but those costs are probably significant – a four-day hearing with leading counsel does not usually come cheap,” he said.
“Payment of them would reduce the sum available for municipal purposes, and, ultimately be borne by the taxpayers.
“The fact that the Corporation had to bear them would be a disincentive to any further invocation of constitutional rights by the Corporation; and would also be a disincentive to others, both individual and corporate, to launch constitutional claims in future.
“I am also satisfied that the initiation and conduct of this litigation was neither frivolous, vexatious, manifestly inappropriate or, in any way, an abuse of the process of the court.”
Sir Christopher said the issues at the heart of the case would impact electors and taxpayers in both the City of Hamilton and the Town of St George, among others.
“Whilst we have reached a clear and unanimous decision, this does not mean that the result was self-evident or that the points argued on behalf of the Corporation were, in truth, not realistically arguable,” he said.
“Further, whilst the fact that the case is to be considered by the Privy Council is in no way determinative on the issue of costs, it seems to me that the issues in this case are fit for consideration by the board, which, relieved of the burden of precedent, might take a different view.”
The legal dispute between the City and the Government was sparked after the House of Assembly approved the Municipalities Amendment Act in 2019.
Under the amendments, ratepayers would lose the right to elect a city mayor and counsellors.
The Government would instead appoint mayors and half the councillors with the remaining councillors picked by the relevant minister on the recommendation of a selection committee.
The City of Hamilton argued the change was unconstitutional as it would give the Government “overwhelming” control of the municipalities and their properties, which would amount to an unconstitutional deprivation of property.
However in a decision released last March the Court of Appeal found that there had been no breach of the constitution.
The City of Hamilton has since appealed the case to London’s Privy Council in a last-ditch effort to halt the change.
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