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Court warns lawyers to comply with rules.

Compliance with the CPR rules is going to be strictly enforced, and those who fail to comply will be punished. So says the Court of Appeal in the infamous “Plebgate” case of Andrew Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Limited. The case was a defamation claim regarding the Sun’s publication of allegations about Mr Mitchell’s behaviour when leaving Downing Street on his bicycle on 19 September 2012. Mr Mitchell’s lawyers were late filing a costs budget at Court. The Court applied the draconian penalty prescribed in the rules, namely that Mr Mitchell would not be entitled to recover his solicitors’ costs, even if he won the case. Mr Mitchell appealed and the Court of Appeal took the opportunity to warn that non-compliance will not be tolerated. In refusing the appeal the Court reiterated that:

The new more robust approach that we have outlined above will mean that from now on relief from sanctions should be granted more sparingly than previously. There will be some lawyers who have conducted litigation in the belief that what Sir Rupert Jackson described as “the culture of delay and non-compliance” will continue despite the introduction of the Jackson reforms. But the Implementation Lectures given well before 1 April 2013 were widely publicised. No lawyer should have been in any doubt as to what was coming. We accept that changes in litigation culture will not occur overnight. But we believe that the wide publicity that is likely to be given to this judgment should ensure that the necessary changes will take place before long.

Compliance with the rules is now of “paramount importance” and the Court sees costs management and budgeting as being at the heart of the reforms. The Court had little sympathy for busy lawyers who miss deadlines, or for Mr Mitchell potentially having to continue with his claim as a self-represented litigant because his lawyers will not get paid.

The Court stated that as a result of its decision legal representatives will become more efficient and will routinely comply with rules, practice directions and orders. From a risk management and professional indemnity perspective, the decision has enormous ramifications. Lawyers are having to alter their approach to become pseudo accountants and project managers.