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Concerns have been raised that lawyers will fall foul of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) due to their ignorance of the major changes coming into force at the end of this week.
From this Friday (6 April) the overhaul of Part 36 of the CPR will mean that payments to court will be abolished and other new procedures will be introduced.
Former Berrymans Lace Mawer partner Jason Maley, who is the head of civil litigation programmes at BPP Professional Development, said the rules are the most fundamental change to Part 36 since the introduction of the CPR in 1999, but practitioners are not awake to the impact they will have.
"Despite advance notice of the new rules, there's a real concern that many civil practitioners are not fully aware of the changes, which could have a huge impact on the companies they act for," said Maley. "Practitioners will fall foul of the new rules and fail to use them to maximum effect for their clients."
The changes come following the Court of Appeal's decision in Trustees of Stokes Pension Fund v Western Power Distribution (2005).
It was held that a court could consider a written offer by a defendant to have the same effect as payments into court so long as it was made without prejudice, was a genuine offer and the defendant was 'good for the money'. The CPR rules take this further by removing the need for being good for the money.
Commercial litigation partner Andrew Howell from Barlow Lyde & Gilbert said it will allow parties to retain access to the millions of pounds that may have otherwise been tied up in court for significant periods of time.
Big winners will include the NHS Litigation Authority, which in 2005 made payments into court worth more than £500m to the victims of clinical negligence.