Elderly widow awarded costs in pro bono litigation

In the matter of Mainieri & Anor v Cirillo [2014] VSCA 227 (17 September 2014), the Victorian Court of Appeal awarded costs to the successful plaintiff who was represented on a pro bono basis.

Rita Cirillo sold her property and contributed the proceeds towards her son and daughter-in-law’s mortgage on the condition that she live with them indefinitely and that they take care of her. Her relationship with her son and daughter-in-law later broke down and it was not longer practical for her to remain living with them. When she sought repayment, her son and daughter-in-law alleged that the monies were an out and out gift.

The Court of Appeal held that Cirillo was entitled to an equitable lien or charge over the property to secure repayment with interest.

On the question of costs, there was a dispute over whether or not the Cirillo was entitled to costs as she was represented on a pro bono basis. The court held that the costs payable to her lawyers, Clayton Utz and Dr Glover, were payable under costs agreements that were contingent upon a costs order being made.

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