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Legal Minds

4 January 2014 / by / in

“Plebgate” brings home the significance of the Jackson reforms

Many in the legal profession will have suffered from sleepless nights following the decision of the Court of Appeal in Andrew Mitchell MP v News Group Newspapers [EWCA] 2013 Civ 1537 (a continuation of the “Plebgate” saga) not to allow relief from the severe sanction imposed upon him as a result of his solicitor’s failure to file a costs budget in accordance with the rules.

Mr Mitchell’s solicitors argued that they should be given relief from this sanction because they are a small firm with an unanticipated workload which they were insufficiently staffed to handle. Whilst the newspaper had suffered no prejudice as a result of the failure to comply with the time limit, Mr Mitchell was refused relief from sanctions and disallowed late filing of a budget in the region of £500,000.

The message is clear: Court rules are there to be obeyed and parties who choose to ignore them are likely to suffer servere sanctions. So it would seem that Jackson has won his war against “the culture of delay and non-compliance”, as relief from sanctions will be granted only in limited circumstances and the argument that the other side suffered no real prejudice as a result of that non-compliance has been show to be insufficient.

This is particular worrying for those involved in an e-disclosure process as it here that greatest risk of a missed deadline arises. There are many traps for the unwary and inexperienced to fall into, because of the technology, process and management associated with an e-disclosure exercise. Such exercises involve many parties and a complex set of case management directions, delays are to be expected, but without proper forethought and management, such delays are likely to put a deadline in jeopardy.

With the penalty for missed deadlines so severe, and with the stakes so high, it is likely that parties will turn a cold shoulder to the spirit of co-operation in the event of failures to comply, with lawyers taking every point in case they can achieve a “Mitchell-like” result against their opponents.  This change in climate means that anyone facing litigation involving e-disclosure will need to be sure they are in experienced hands as increased precision in all aspects of the planning and implementation of the disclosure process is of paramount importance.