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Court of Appeal verdict: Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd

Jeremy Smith writes about a case which arose from a newspaper libel incident in 2013

This is a case about how strictly should the courts enforce compliance with rules, practice directions and court orders in the light of the tougher and less forgiving approach required by the Jackson reforms introduced in April 2013.

The case arises out of the well-known ‘Plebgate’ affair involving the Conservative former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell. He is suing the Sun newspaper for libel, but his solicitors had failed to file a cost budget in time for a case management conference, for which the sanction was for his legal costs to be limited to court fees alone. The judge had refused to allow this sanction to be lifted, with the result that even if Mr Mitchell wins his case, the Sun will not have not pay his legal fees.

I am not all surprised to see that the Court of Appeal have upheld the hard line taken by the lower court. The reforms are intended to change the culture of litigation and the Court of Appeal were not prepared to allow what would have been seen as a major setback to that change, even though they accepted that the decision was harsh.

They said: “We hope that our decision will send out a clear message”. The message is loud and clear: from now on all solicitors must comply with rules, practice directions and orders or face dire consequences. We have been warned!