The dangers of failing to comply with Court deadlines - Andrew Mitchell MP v News Group Newspapers Limited

The Court of Appeal has refused an application made on behalf of Andrew Mitchell MP in his claim against The Sun newspaper, after it published an article suggesting that he had sworn at and called police officers “plebs”.

The case was being governed by a pilot costs management scheme for defamation, similar to the costs management scheme which has already been put in place for other civil cases, including multi-track personal injury claims. Under both schemes lawyers are required to file a detailed cost budget setting out costs incurred to date and those costs estimated to be incurred in the future.

Mr Mitchell’s solicitors filed the costs budget late, claiming that they had been “stretched very thin in terms of resources”. The Defendant’s solicitors argued that they had not had an opportunity to consider the costs budget due to the delay in receiving it. At the hearing the presiding Master determined that there was no adequate excuse for the breach of the rules and ordered that it be treated as if Mr Mitchell’s solicitors had filed a budget comprising only the applicable court fees (i.e. with no provision for Mr Mitchell’s costs).

Mr Mitchell’s solicitors applied for relief from this sanction. This was refused by the Master. Mr Mitchell’s solicitors then in turn appealed against this ruling. This appeal has now been refused by the Court of Appeal, who upheld the Master’s original decision.

The Court of Appeal held that the need to conduct litigation efficiently and at proportionate cost and enforce compliance with the rules, practice directions and court orders carry a far greater weight when balancing all the other circumstances of the case. Only if the failure to comply with a provision can be regarded as trivial or insignificant may the Court grant relief, provided the application is made promptly. However in more substantial instances of default, the defaulting party will have to show that there is good reason to grant relief (such as a debilitating illness or accident).

James Braund, specialist personal injury solicitor at Trethowans, stated that “This ruling by the Court of Appeal is a shot across the bows of solicitors acting in default of the Court rules. It has been made clear that breaches of court orders by claimants (or their solicitors) will not be tolerated. It is now even more important than ever that claimants’ claims are handled by specialist and experienced solicitors, to ensure pitfalls are avoided and all deadlines are met.”