The Court of Appeal has today handed down the eagerly awaited Judgment in Andrew Mitchell MP v News Group Newspapers Limited  EWCA Civ 1526.
The appeal related to two decisions of Master McCloud to limit the Claimant’s costs budget to court fees only and refusing relief from sanctions for failing to file the budget on time. The budget in question was in the sum of £506,425.
The Masters of the Rolls, sitting with Lord Justice Richards and Lord Justice Elias, found that the Master correctly applied the new regime as to rule compliance when allowing only court fees. They indicated that relief should be granted more sparingly than previously. They also recognised that they should not lightly interfere with a case management decision.
The Master of the Rolls was critical of two recent decisions in which relief from sanctions were granted at first instance.
Insofar as the sanction was disproportionate, the Master of the Rolls indicated that the merit of the rule was that it set out a stark and simple default sanction. If partial relief was to be encouraged, that would give rise to uncertainty and complexity and stimulate satellite litigation.
The appeals were accordingly dismissed. Whilst it was acknowledged that the decision was robust, it was indicated that the defaults were not minor or trivial and that there was no good excuse. Although it seemed harsh, if they were to overturn the decision to refuse relief, it would be inevitable that the attempt to achieve a change in culture would receive a major setback.
“In the result, we hope that our decision will send out a clear message. If it does, we are confident that, in time, legal representatives will become more efficient and will routinely comply with rules, practice directions and orders. If this happens, then we would expect satellite litigation of this kind, which is so expensive and damaging to the civil justice system, will become a thing of the past.”.
Click to read the full judgment report.