14 July, 2014
On 4th July 2014, the Court of Appeal issued new guidance in granting relief from sanctions, following several months of uncertainty in the lower courts following the decision in Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd.
Lord Dyson upheld three appeals relating to relief from sanctions under rule 3.9 Civil Procedure Rules. Whilst stating that the decision in Mitchell remained 'substantially sound', Lord Dyson also highlighted that guidance within the judgment had been 'misunderstood and is being misapplied by some courts'.
In an attempt to clarify the guidance in Mitchell, Lord Dyson stated that the court should concentrate on the following aspects when deciding whether relief from sanctions can be sought:
This means that courts will now have to consider the weight of the breach as well as the circumstances of the case. Additionally, the Court of Appeal clarified that the limited circumstances given in the Mitchell judgment, such as a solicitor suffering from a debilitating illness or being involved in an accident, were merely examples and not the only instances in which relief will be granted.
Further, the Court of Appeal made it clear that if a party unreasonably refuses to agree to an extension of time or to an application for relief from sanctions, they face heavy costs penalties. These costs penalties may not be limited to the costs of making the application but may also result in indemnity costs being awarded. This should mean that contested applications for relief from sanctions will be rare and should only arise in exceptional circumstances.
At Forbes' we believe that this judgment is welcome news for our clients and all those who are involved in civil litigation. Although it is of upmost importance to comply with court orders and directions, this new guidance from the Court of Appeal brings back common sense and the administration of justice into the question of whether relief from sanctions can be sought.