The Court of Appeal has ruled that a firm of solicitors representing a client in a libel claim will not be able to recover any of their legal fees as they missed a deadline imposed by the court. The case involves the firm of solicitors representing Andrew Mitchell in his libel action against the Sun in what is now known as the “plebgate” scandal. The recent costs ruling means that even if he wins his case against the Sun, in contrast to under normal circumstances, the missed deadline will mean the newspaper will not have to pay his legal fees.

The decision is the first major decision following changes to the litigation rules introduced by Lord Justice Jackson in April 2013. Amongst these reforms was the requirement for all parties to file and exchange a costs budget more than 7 days before the case management hearing.

When preparing Mr Mitchell’s case, his lawyers failed to submit such a costs budget within the required timeframe, only actually doing so the day prior to the case management hearing and after a prompting email from the court reminding them to do so.

The small firm acting for Mr Mitchell has only two partners and complained that they had not had sufficient time to fully consider Mr Mitchell’s costs budget.

Coming in at £506,425, it was undoubtedly a complex case to consider.

Yet despite this and the other arguments put forward in appeal against the costs ruling, the decision was upheld. The firm’s application for relief from sanctions was further dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

This recent ruling is stark evidence that the courts will adopt a hard-line approach to missed deadlines.

In the wake of the Jackson reforms it is quite clear that serious sanctions will be imposed for failures to comply with such deadlines. Andrew Mitchell’s costs budget, should he win the case, will now be limited to the relevant court fees only.

Following this ruling, there will be an increasing number of litigants having their cases struck out for failure to comply with directions. The ruling is also likely to lead to an increase in the number of professional negligence actions against solicitors for failing to comply with court deadlines.

Here at Farleys we have a team of specialist lawyers who are also members of the Professional Negligence Lawyers Association. If your solicitor has failed to submit information to court within the relevant deadline there may be grounds for making a successful claim. To discuss this further with one of our solicitors, please do not hesitate to contact us.

By Daniel Draper, Professional Negligence Solicitor