Filing a costs budget even just a day late does not count as a ‘trivial’ breach of rules, a county court has ruled.
District Judge Lumb decided in Burt v Linford Christie that the defendant’s costs estimate should not be accepted as it was filed after the scheduled deadline.
The former Olympic sprint champion had admitted liability after a road traffic accident with a taxi in 2010 led to a claim from the passenger Michael Burt.
Sitting in the Queen’s Bench division in Birmingham, Lumb said that Christie’s legal team had submitted that filing a costs budget one or two days late ‘obviously falls within the category of a trivial breach’.
He replied: ‘I do not agree that the position is so straightforward. Even before the Jackson revolution and a more robust approach there have been plenty of examples provided by the higher courts where even attempted compliance one day late has been unsuccessful.’
The issue of a ‘trivial’ breach of new costs budgeting rules – which came into force last April – has been a key element of the new regime since the Mitchell judgment in November.
Then, master of the rolls Lord Dyson took a hardline stance on non-compliance, directing relief from sanctions to be granted only if the breach was ‘trivial’.
In the Christie case, the defendant was required to file the budget by 16 January, but tried to serve it a day later by fax. The budget did not reach the court until 20 January (the next working day).
Lumb added: ‘Failure to interpret the unambiguous rules of the court correctly, in this case CPR 2.8 in relation to the calculation of seven days, clearly cannot amount to a good reason within Mitchell.’
Lumb also highlighted that the majority of the costs management conference on 24 January was taken up with consideration of the relief from sanctions issue, leaving no time to deal with each party’s budget. The defendant will be treated as having filed a budget comprising only the applicable court fees.
Meanwhile, leaders of both defendant and claimant representative groups have expressed their respective fears about the unintended consequences of Mitchell.
David Johnson, president of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers, said lawyers were concerned that courts were taking a draconian approach that will see a return to a more combative style of litigation.
‘If compliance with the rules comes to be put before anything else, we may see the quality of evidence diminish, undermining a just outcome even where high value catastrophic injury claims are concerned,’ Johnson told a conference hosted by national firm Weightmans, where he is a partner.
Motor Accident Solicitors Society vice chair Susan Brown, who is also a director at law firm Prolegal, added: ‘The consequences of Mitchell are terrifying – claimant representatives live under a culture of fear as a result.
‘We are all reeling under the shock but in the future, we may see both parties eager to blame each other – and seek sanctions – for any procedural problems arising in the course of a case.’