DORSET Council has defended employing a barrister to represent the authority at the legal hearing into the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland Harbour.

The daily rate is likely to amount to thousands of pounds – although the council has declined to disclose what the full cost will be to Dorset council taxpayers.

The High Court case was brought by Portland mayor, Carralyn Parkes, partially paid for by a £25,000 Crowdfunding appeal which has seen actress Dame Vanessa Redgrave donate £4,000.

The Mayor was challenging the Home Office’s use of the Bibby Stockholm barge to accommodate asylum seekers.

The judge ruled that Mrs Parkes did not have an arguable case.

The vessel has been empty since August 11 when asylum seekers were evacuated following the discovery of legionella bacteria in the water system.

Cllr Parkes argued that the Home Office breached planning rules, although Dorset Council took the stance that, because of its position within the harbour, planning rules do not apply.

Said council leader Cllr Spencer Flower at a meeting earlier in the year prior to the barge arrival: “Where the barge is to be positioned is below the mean low water mark. This means that the barge is outside of our planning control and there is no requirement for planning permission from the Council…

I for one do not wish to use local council tax to pay for an unsuccessful legal challenge.”

The High Court hearing, at this stage, is to decide whether the case should proceed to a full judicial review.

In a letter to the Financial Times Ms Redgrave compared the barge to Charles Dickens’ prison ships.

“Is today’s treatment of asylum seekers, housing them in a barge, cruel? Yes. Inhuman? Yes. Illegal? I hope it will be found to be so and believe it would be under international human rights law. A fire hazard? I fear so. A virtual prison. Yes,” she said.

Dorset Council, in a statement, said that it was at the hearing because it was named as an ‘interested party’ in the proceedings. The council is being paid by the Government for services it provides to asylum seekers amounting to around £3,500 for each person onboard, plus a one-off payment of £377,000.

Said a council spokesperson: “The Judge ordered us, along with all interested parties, to file a response on this matter. Because of this, we have arranged for our barrister to attend the hearing today to assist the court if they have any questions on our submission. We also consider that it is reasonable and proportionate for us to have a barrister in the room to hear what the judge and other parties have to say on this matter today.

“We won’t be sharing details of the cost of this legal representation.”

Despite the council’s reluctance to disclose the level of payment one leading London chamber publishes its ‘refresher’ fees for barristers which vary between £200 and £500 an hour, depending on seniority. In addition other fees are likely to be payable and may also involve fees for supporting legal staff as well as for research.