The decision in Mitchell is obviously creating a lot of ink on paper and much grief. Years ago, I was told by an old US lawyer of the approach taken by courts in his state during his father’s time.
They had something called a ‘Time Penalty’. Each time a lawyer for any party went beyond the time prescribed for taking a particular step, the court would impose an automatic ‘Time Penalty’.
There was a standard penalty of something like $10; it was payable by the party’s lawyer personally. It was very easy for the judges to administer. The lawyer was not allowed to leave the court building until it was paid.
The procedure was for the lawyer to be sent from the courtroom to the fees office, where he would pay the penalty and be given a receipt. This involved joining a long queue. The lawyer would then go back to court with his receipt and queue again, until the judge had time to see him, validate the receipt and release him from the court building.
Frequent offenders often found they might be queuing in court until the judge finished his work for the day.
My US lawyer told me that it had a wonderful effect on firms. It was not just payment of the fee but all the waiting around. Firms rapidly reduced fee-earners’ caseloads to levels where they could comply with time limits.
The penalties were ploughed back into the court system to improve the administration of justice.
I wonder why no one seems to have thought of implementing that approach here? It seems a much more proportionate, effective and economical way of dealing with breach of time limits.
Vincent Oakley, solicitor, Wolverhampton