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Court of Appeal reinforces strict approach to Court rules

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Andrew Mitchell MP’s solicitors have failed to convince the courts to reverse their decision to limit their approved costs budget to court fees only. As set out in our earlier Jackson Budget Update on 4 October 2013, the solicitors’ failure to submit a costs estimate 7 days before the Case Management Conference (CMC), despite only being provided with 4 days notice, resulted in the costs being capped to court fees only.

The Courts have made clear with this decision that they will be emphatically supporting the measures imposed under the Jackson reforms (which came into force in April), aiming to improve the efficiency of the court process and reduce the costs of litigation. The Courts identified that of paramount importance is:

a) Litigation must be conducted efficiently and proportionately; and

b) Compliance with rules, practice directions and orders must be enforced.

While previously the court would readily consider, for example, if the failure to comply was intentional, or if it was in the interests of the administration of justice to allow relief, such factors have now become secondary. The effect on the wider public interest, ensuring other cases are not impacted by the changing of court dates resulting from a party’s failure to comply with deadlines, is now a high-priority consideration for the court.

While it is clear that the failure to comply with court deadlines will be harshly judged, the court set out a number of circumstances where relief could be granted: 

1) Trivial breaches:

Where there is ”no more than an insignificant failure to comply”, relief can be granted. Examples provided of an insignificant failure included where there is a “failure of form not substance” in a submitted costs budget, or if “the party has narrowly missed the deadline imposed by the order, but has otherwise fully complied with its terms”.

2) Provision of a ‘good reason’:

The threshold set for a ‘good reason’ is high, for example, where “the party or his solicitor suffered from a debilitating illness or was involved in an accident”, although such reasons are further still dependent on the specific circumstances. In addition, the court’s discretion could be exercised where later developments in the course of the litigation process indicate that the original deadlines imposed are unreasonable in light of the change in circumstances. It was suggested that ‘good reasons’ are more likely to arise from “circumstances outside the control of the party in default”.

Eversheds have a specialist litigation costs team who prepare estimates and budgets, as well as dealing with other costs issues including Detailed assessments, Bills of Costs and Costs negotiations.

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