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Too strict on simple mistakes?

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In November 2013, the Court of Appeal upheld a judgment in relation to costs in the case of Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd. Andrew Mitchell's solicitors were refused relief from sanction for filing a costs budget seven days late. This means that News Group Newspapers Ltd will now not have to pay Mitchell's legal fees under any circumstances and Mitchell's costs budget has been limited to only include Court fees.

The Court of Appeal said that the defaults of Mitchell's solicitors were not minor or trivial. The judgment went on to say that there was no good excuse given for these defaults.

Many have said this judgment was too strict and that a severe costs penalty would have been more appropriate. The Courts have not taken this view and the judgment in Mitchell has been considered and applied in various cases since. It seems the Courts are not willing to be lenient in relation to any non-compliance of directions. In fact, even where a budget is only one day late the Courts have confirmed they will not grant relief from sanctions (Burt v Linford Christie).

So are the Courts 'punishments' for failing to comply with directions too harsh and strict as many have argued? Well that depends on the reason for not complying with the direction.  However, remember that directions are in place to be complied with. If dates and deadlines were not important for structure and the management of cases then they would not be given. With time management, careful planning and organisation we can all comply with directions and avoid these 'harsh punishments'.

A lesson can be learnt from these cases. Ensure that you are aware of the directions given. Plan well in advance to ensure you have time to comply with these directions. Most of all, do not file documents late with the Court.

Unfortunately consumers could be affected by their solicitor’s negligence in failing to comply with directions. The costs implications could mean that consumers may not get money back that they have paid out in legal fees. If this happens to you then legal advice should be sought as soon as possible. We have a team of solicitors who specialise in professional negligence who will be able to assist you if you are in this situation and need further advice and help to try to obtain damages.

By Alysia Wilde, a graduate paralegal in the dispute resolution department