Tough Approach To Failure To Comply With Court Timetables Confirmed By The Court of Appeal

This was an appeal by Andrew Mitchell (or more realistically his lawyers) against an earlier decision in the course of his claim against News Group following the “Plebgate” incident.

His lawyers had failed to exchange a costs budget with the lawyers for News Group or to file their budget with the court within the time required. They eventually did do so but only the day before the hearing at which the budgets were to be discussed rather than 7 days before hand as the rules require.

The point of costs budgets is to try and control the amounts being spent on litigation by the parties (or at least the amounts that each party may have to pay towards the other’s costs). The rules provide that if budgets have been agreed, those are the amounts that each side can spend and try and recover from the other.

If no budget is provided in accordance with the rules, the rules state that that party will be taken to have filed a budget limited to the court fees. That is the order the judge made in Mr Mitchell’s case (although that was actually being handled under a pilot scheme which did not specify a sanction – the nature of what the sanction would be under the new rules was already clear though).

Given that News Groups’ budget came to £589,558, I think we can presume that Mr Mitchell’s costs are expected to be at a similar level. The court fees will come to a few thousand pounds at most. There is obviously a bit of a gap there… which his lawyers and their insurers will no doubt have to plug.

The Court of Appeal considered the judge’s decision and upheld it completely. The message is (and is intended to be) very clear and is not only limited to costs budgets.

The court will now take a much tougher stance on failure to comply with the rules and court timetables and the old cases and expectations about when the court would impose sanctions or grant relief no longer apply.

The indications are that this will apply across the board and whilst there is usually some leeway allowed for unrepresented parties, the signs are that the courts will much tougher there too. Sanctions can range from not being allowed your costs to potentially having your whole case thrown out.

More than ever it is important to put your litigation in good hands and get the best advice and assistance you can. If you need help with litigation, contact Ian Pinder at Gardner Croft Solicitors.