Master McCloud has recently handed down a decision in the case of Andrew Mitchell MP v News Group Newspapers Ltd  EWHC 2355 (QB) demonstrating the strict approach the Courts are taking under the new Civil Procedure Rule 3.9 for applications for relief from sanction.
The case, known in the press as Plebgate, is a libel action brought by Andrew Mitchell MP against the publishers of The Sun newspaper, News Group Newspapers Limited. This is following The Sun’s front-page headline which suggested that the Member of Parliament for Sutton Coldfield had sworn at a police officer outside Downing Street.
The High Court has limited the Claimant’s costs of his libel action to his court fees only. This was because the Claimant’s Solicitors failed to file a costs budget until the day before the cost management conference. The Claimant’s solicitors were required to file the cost budget at least 7 days before the hearing. This means that should Andrew Mitchell win his case, the only costs he would be able to claim from News Group would be the court fees only.
An application was made for relief from sanction, which the Master dismissed.
Master McCloud noted that the Claimant’s solicitors did not ask for extra time. The Master was also of the opinion that the Claimant’s explanations that they were a small firm and suffering from pressures of work were not unusual and refused to grant the relief on these grounds.
In addition, the Master stated that there was no evidence the Claimant would suffer prejudice arising from her order.
It is important to note that the decision was made after the implementation of the Jackson reforms. CPR 3.9, which deals with relief from sanction, was significantly revised by the Jackson reforms. The Court now needs to specifically consider the need for litigation to be conducted efficiently and at proportionate cost, and the need to enforce compliance with rules, practice directions and court orders when determining if relief can be granted.
The result demonstrates that it appears to be far harder to obtain relief under the new rules. The Master commented that it was considerably more likely that the relief would have been granted under the old regime. The Master granted permission to appeal and the case is now expected to proceed to the Court of Appeal.
This case demonstrates both the importance of complying with the cost management regime and the strict approach the courts appear to be taking in interpreting CPR 3.9 in respect of applications for relief from sanction.
Paul Davis is a Solicitor in the Dispute Resolution Department at BHW Solicitors in Leicester. Paul can be contacted on 0116 281 6231 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.