Recent changes to the Civil Procedure Rules have had a major affect on the way lawyers manage court cases.
The rules are designed to reduce costs and speed up the court process particularly by making sure that court deadlines are met.
Surely this makes perfect sense? After all, timetables are there for a reason and surely should be adhered to?
Before the rules, there existed a tendency to view Court directions and deadlines as a ‘guide’ rather than a rigid timetable. Indeed, in 2012, Lord Justice Jackson referred to “a culture of toleration of delay and non-compliance with court orders”.
Under the new rules, if a party fails to comply with the rules or deadlines, they are entitled to ask the court for ‘Relief from sanctions'.
The Court must then consider all the circumstances of the case to allow it to consider the request, including the need:
- For the litigation to be conducted efficiently and at proportionate costs
- To enforce compliance with rules, practice directions and orders
Indeed, since the new rules came into effect, a flurry of cases has demonstrated that the courts were now taking a much more robust view with cases being routinely dismissed for non-compliance.
Yet, there are occasions when deadlines simply cannot be met and, let’s be honest, mistakes can be made – after all, we’re only human.
The High Court has recently signalled a more common sense approach to the issue - one involving a simple human error and the other involving a document being served two days late.
In Wyche v Careforce Group PLC, Mr Justice Walker granted relief, ruling that the court could make allowance for human error. It was relevant whether the error was inadvertent or deliberate. Here the errors had been inadvertent, they had been speedily remedied, and they had not affected the scheduled trial date.
In Rayyan Al Iraq Co Ltd v Trans Victory Marine Inc, Mr Justice Andrew Smith found that an oversight which led to the claimant’s solicitors serving particulars of claim two days late was in all the circumstances the clearest case for allowing an extension of time.
He noted the courts approach to the new rules, but held that this did not mean relief should not be granted where that would be disproportionate and also give one party an unjustified windfall.
However, the moral of the story