ZX Spectrum reboot firm gets £52k court costs order quashed

Up and down goes the Retro Computers Ltd litigation yoyo

The £52,000 costs order granted against troubled ZX Spectrum reboot firm Retro Computers Ltd has been set aside by the Senior Courts Costs Office, a branch of the High Court, as the wrangle between RCL and two former directors rumbles on.

Sitting in a sweltering sixth-floor courtroom on June 15 in the Thomas More building, behind the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Master Leonard of the SCCO quashed the costs order and allowed RCL to submit counter-arguments to the bill of costs presented by lawyers acting on behalf of Paul Andrews and Chris Smith, two shareholders in – and former directors of – RCL.

RCL is well known to regular readers as the company that promised to make a modern-day ZX Spectrum-themed gaming console, called the Vega+. Having taken £513,000 in crowdfunded cash raised through Indiegogo, RCL has still failed to deliver the console after a year's worth of promised deadlines have passed.

"We have a contentious history in this particular debate," noted the judge at the opening of the hearing. "We have a bill of costs served, and we have a request of an extension of time of points in dispute. The explanation given is 'we've been busy with something else and haven't applied ourselves'. If that's right – and you may want to correct me on that – then I think that puts a certain perspective on it."

The bill of costs is the detailed breakdown of work by lawyers charged to the client. Those costs are generally recoverable in civil litigation from the losing party.

Appearing for RCL, barrister Paul Emerson of Devereux Chamber told the court: "The thrust of our application is... it's wrong to apply for a default costs certificate (DCC), it's wrong to apply without telling the court, the position should be that one has to notify the court, or us, and give us an opportunity to say we're going to apply some sort of without notice order."

RCL had applied for an extension of time to consider the bill of costs and raise formal points of dispute. Andrews and Smith had obtained the DCC while it was known that the application was being made, a hot point of dispute between them and RCL.

The DCC in question was granted in May by the SCCO for £52,520.12. At the time Andrews told us that he felt he had "no option" but to apply for the certificate, which was granted to allow him to recover his court costs against RCL. During litigation earlier this year Andrews and Smith were able to prevent RCL's current directors from unlawfully stripping them of their shareholdings in the company.

"The only explanation we have been given is in the 9th May letter [from RCL's legal team]: 'due to commitments on other cases we are involved with, we do not have the capacity to consider the issue of costs and respond by 12 May'," said Andrews and Smith's barrister, Robert Marvin of 4 New Square chambers. "Two questions: why on earth not, and why didn't you raise this before?"

Marvin said his clients "set out an entirely reasonable position when we served our bill of costs", adding that they had heard nothing "until the last-minute request for an extension of time on 9th May" right before the previous scheduled hearing in the case.

Although he appeared to accept "that being busy on other matters is [not] sufficient justification" for RCL's lawyers to fail to consider the matter of costs, Master Leonard nonetheless quashed the DCC; declined to make any order about costs for that day's hearing; declined to order an interim payment in lieu of costs be made by RCL to Andrews and Smith; and ordered the company to file its points of dispute by July 21.

None of the legal wrangling gets RCL's 5,000 crowdfunding backers any closer to receiving the product they paid for – or, for that matter, any closer to getting their money back. Each Vega+ was listed on RCL's Indiegogo page at £105, with the money technically being pledged to help put the console into production rather than as a direct payment for goods. At the hearing the judge ordered the parties go away and agree the wording of the order he would make. That was done earlier this week. ®

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