The High Court has shown leniency to solicitors who filed their costs budget 13 days late, agreeing they should be granted relief from sanctions.
Lionel Persey QC, sitting as a deputy judge of the High Court, noted the defaulting solicitors in Manchester Shipping Ltd v Balfour Shopping Ltd & Anor may have ‘dropped the ball’ but said the mistake was inadvertent and did not require draconian punishment.
The decision adds to a catalogue of cases where the courts have ruled on late filing of documents – some where relief was not granted for delays much shorter than the 13 days in this case. It will be taken as another sign that courts are willing to accept a commonsense approach that focuses on the outcome of a default rather than the mistake itself.
The late filing occurred ahead of a case management hearing after the defendants had admitted liability for contractual breaches but denied their actions had caused a loss.
The parties’ costs budgets should have been filed and exchanged no later than 21 days before the hearing, scheduled for 17 January. While the claimant filed and served on Christmas Eve, the defendants’ budget was not served until 8 January.
The judge conceded that while failure to submit a costs budget on time was serious, its effect was of limited significance because there was still over a week before the case management hearing.
The defendants’ solicitors had assumed all of the steps to be completed before the hearing had been identified in a timetable which failed to mention the costs budget.
In this context the default was ‘understandable’, even if there was no agreement that costs would not be looked at before the court on 17 January.
‘The breach, although serious in terms of lateness, did not prevent the litigation from being conducted efficiently or at proportionate cost,’ said the judge. ‘No inconvenience was caused to the court or to other court users.’ The ruling effectively means the defendants can still recover their costs if they are successful at trial.