Tania Sless reports on the impact of the Civil Procedure Rules on the extension deadlines for serving a claim form

ON 28 May 1996, Michael Vinos was injured during the course of his employment with Marks & Spencer. His solicitors issued proceedings on 20 May 1999, but due to an oversight on their part, the proceedings were not served until 29 September 1999. Could they rely on the overriding objective of rules 1.2 and 3.10 of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), to persuade the court to extend the time for serving the claim form? The Court of Appeal has now decided that they could not.

The rules do allow for applications to extend time for service of proceedings, but the words “only if” in rule 7.6 expressly limit the circumstances in which the court has power to extend time. These stipulated conditions did not apply in this case.

The claimant argued that he was asking the court to correct an error, but Lord Justice May said the claimant was actually seeking an extension of time, and to describe it as “correcting an error” did not change its substance.

The court accepted that the claimant’s case was a deserving one (the insurers had effectively conceded liability and had already made interim payments) but went on to criticise his solicitors for their delays. It was unsatisfactory to allow almost three years to elapse, and then to start proceedings at the very last moment. If this happens, then the solicitors, in accordance with the overriding objective, should be required to progress the case speedily and within given time limits. The outcome of this particular case was not unjust – indeed, the solicitors had three years and four months to get things in order.

Finally, the court reiterated that submissions referring to the law under the former Rules of the Supreme Court are irrelevant. The CPR comprise a new procedural code, and the court would now approach the interpretation of the rules untrammelled by the weight of authority accumulated under the old rules.

Tania Sless is an insurance litigation partner with Beachcroft Wansbroughs, which acted for the defendant.