Joint statement from Kevin Barron MP, John Healey MP & Sarah Champion MP
Reacting to this afternoon’s judgement in which UKIP have been found liable to contribute towards the legal costs in the three MPs’ successful defamation case against Jane Collins MEP, they said:
“This judgement confirms UKIP used the unfounded allegations by Jane Collins for political advantage. At the highest level UKIP knew Jane Collins’ case was ‘hopeless’ but blocked any settlement in our favour before the 2015 General Election because they believed it would win them votes. This deliberate strategy delayed the full vindication we finally won, and hugely increased the legal costs.”
“This means UKIP will rightly pay a substantial share of the legal bill. Their actions behind the scenes forced the costs to soar and compounded the damage from Jane Collins’ unfounded allegations.”
Estimates suggest UKIP will have to pay at least £200 000 of the total legal bill which stood at £660 000, before this hearing. The final figure will be determined by a judge through a detailed assessment of costs.
This hearing and judgement concerns legal costs only; it has no connection to the judgement ordering Jane Collins to pay damages to each of the three MPs, which remains outstanding.
Extracts from the judgement by Justice Warby, 15 February 2018:
83. (5) The critical period starts with the conference with Counsel on 16 January 2015. I find that Counsel was clear at that time that there was no tenable defence and the advisable course of action was an offer of amends.
(7) Things change significantly with the NEC’s decision(s) of late February and/or early March 2015. In that period the Party took a deliberate, informed and calculated decision, for reasons of party political advantage, to ensure that the case was not settled before the General Election. … The decision to delay meant that by this time the costs had escalated to a point that made settlement unaffordable for the Party (or so it decided) … Further costs that could have been avoided were therefore incurred after that, to no useful purpose, until late June 2015 when Ms Collins was left to her own devices.
84. Whatever happened on 28 February and 2 March 2015, it is sufficiently clear that, by the second of those two dates, a decision had been taken at a high level within UKIP that the action should be settled, but not until after the election. The only credible motives for such a decision are political. The minutes of the NEC meeting of 10 March 2015 serve to double-underline this point. They unquestionably represent corporate decision-making. The decision-makers knew that Ms Collins’ cause was hopeless, and that settlement was the only realistic option, but decided to delay that step. They did so knowing this would in all probability make settlement more difficult and more expensive, having reckoned that this risk was outweighed by the prospects of political gain (or avoiding political damage). This was a process of calculation in which extra votes were expressly weighed in the balance against the certainty of additional costs, and the risk that these might be unaffordable.
88. UKIP … took key decision(s) of late February and early March 2015. It was not, at that time, a “pure” funder. It sought to and did control the course of the action, for its own Party purposes.
90. I have concluded that a limited costs order … should be made against UKIP, to reflect the impact on the action and its costs of the Party’s deliberate and calculated decision(s) of late February and early March 2015, to ensure for Party political and specifically electoral reasons that the claimants’ action should not be settled before the General Election.