Court of Appeal clarifies Mitchell guidance on relief from sanctions — a welcomed departure from the hardline approach to procedure

In Mitchell v News Group Newspapers, the first decision handed down following the implementation of the Jackson reforms in April 2013, the Court of Appeal took a robust stance on whether to grant relief from sanctions against procedural breaches. It set a precedent for courts to be strict in enforcing compliance with rules and directions.

In Mitchell, the claimant was refused relief from sanctions when his solicitors failed to try to agree the claimant’s costs budget with the other side and did not file the budget on time — filing it the day before, rather than seven days before, the Case Management Conference. As a result, the court ordered that the claimant’s costs recovery, if successful, would be restricted only to court fees, rather than the likely hundreds of thousands of pounds that might actually be incurred. This controversial decision implied that relief would not be granted, save for exceptional circumstances.

Following Mitchell, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal, judges across the country have grappled with various different applications for relief from sanctions, trying to find a way to continue the robust approach advocated in Mitchell, without acting disproportionately or, worse still, preventing access to justice. The result was a plethora of conflicting decisions, leading to uncertainty as to when relief would be granted…

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