Court of Appeal in "plebgate" case - zero tolerance for missing court deadlines?

The Sun will not have to pay Andrew Mitchell’s legal fees even if he wins his "plebgate" libel action against it.  This was the sanction imposed as a result of Mr Mitchell’s solicitors missing the court deadline for filing their costs budget at court - under new court rules, parties in most cases now have to file costs budgets at the beginning of cases showing what their total legal fees are likely to be.

Costs budgets were introduced in Lord Justice Jackson’s reform of litigation costs which took effect from 1 April this year. The reform also introduced new court rules signalling a tougher approach by the courts to non-compliance with court orders and deadlines – the view was that missing court orders and deadlines not only contributes to higher legal costs incurred by parties to litigation, it also takes up more court time which adversely affects all other court users.

Mr Mitchell’s solicitors were not allowed relief from this sanction of non-recovery of legal costs, because they did not miss the court deadline due to any circumstances outside their control, it was merely overlooked by them. The Court of Appeal has now upheld this decision, confirming that relief from sanctions will now be granted more sparingly than previously.

The Court of Appeal’s judgment in this case provides a welcome clarification of the approach courts should adopt in dealing with breaches or non-compliance with procedural orders. However it is now imperative that all those involved in litigation ensure that all court orders and deadlines are complied with, and that if there might be any unavoidable difficulty in doing so, an application for more time must be made to the court before rather than after the deadline has passed.  

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