Key Issues in Cotham School v Bristol City Council: Procedural Rules, Costs Protection, and Court Orders

Citation: [2024] EWHC 154 (Ch)
Judgment on


In the High Court of Justice case Cotham School v Bristol City Council & Ors [2024] EWHC 154 (Ch), presided over by HHJ Paul Matthews, the Court addressed several critical issues concerning the legal procedure and costs in the context of a claim to amend the commons register. The claim arose from an attempt to delete an entry for the Stoke Lodge playing fields, registered as a town green, impacting the claimant, Cotham School’s, use of the land for school purposes. This case presents an analysis of procedural rules for litigation, the implications of the Aarhus Convention within UK law, protective costs orders, and the costs capping orders under Civil Procedure Rules.

Key Facts

Concerning procedural matters, the Bristol City Council (the Council) appeared twice on the court record, raising the issue of whether an entity could be both plaintiff and defendant in the same litigation. The Court applied established principles to resolve this, ultimately requiring the Council to appear only once on the record. On the financial side, the case examined whether the claim was eligible for costs protection under the Aarhus Convention, protective costs orders following Corner House principles, and costs capping orders under CPR rule 3.19.

The following legal principles were pivotal in the adjudication of the case:

  1. Procedural Rule on Single Appearance: A legal entity may appear only once on the court record, whether as a claimant or a defendant. Multiple appearances are not permitted to avoid complicating legal proceedings. This principle, drawn from cases like Neale v Turton and Hardie & Lane Ltd v Chiltern, underscores the simplicity and efficiency in legal proceedings.

  2. Aarhus Convention Cost Protection under CPR Part 46: An Aarhus Convention claim offers capped costs to claimants in environmental matters. However, it is contingent on criteria such as the claimant being a ‘member of the public’ and the claim being a ‘review under statute’. In this case, the claim did not meet the ‘review under statute’ criteria as required by CPR Part 46, negating Aarhus Convention costs protection.

  3. Protective Costs Orders as per Corner House Principles: Such orders may only be made in judicial review applications and are not applicable here due to legislative limitations laid out in CPR Part 46 and reinforced by the Court of Appeal in Venn v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

  4. Costs Capping Orders under CPR rule 3.19: These are made only in exceptional circumstances and are seen as less suitable than costs management orders. They are designed to cap recoverable costs between the parties subject to certain preconditions.


The Court reached the following conclusions:

  1. The City Council was ordered to appear on the record once only as the defendant, providing a single set of legal representation.

  2. The claimant’s request for costs protection under the Aarhus Convention was not granted, as the claim did not fall within the scope of a ‘review under statute’.

  3. The protective costs order under Corner House principles was not applicable, as the Court lacked jurisdiction to side-step limitations imposed by secondary legislation.

  4. No costs capping order was made, as it was deemed that adequate cost control could be achieved through potential costs management orders.


The case Cotham School v Bristol City Council & Ors demonstrated the judiciary’s stringent application of procedural rules to ensure an efficient legal process. The decision underscores the limited scope of Aarhus Convention cost protection in English law and reinforced that protective costs orders and costs capping orders are instruments of cost control not readily available outside their tightly controlled criteria. Legal professionals must navigate these intricacies carefully, particularly when considering the financial implications and procedural compliance in environmental and other public significance litigations.