piBlawg

the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Failure to file costs budgets: a recent example in practice

Pursuant to CPR 3.12 and 3.13, unless the Court orders otherwise all parties (unless they are litigants in person) in a multi-track case commenced after 1st April 2013 must file and exchange costs budgets. The date for doing so will either be prescribed by the Notice of Proposed Allocation served by the Court pursuant to CPR 23(1) or, in the absence of a specific date, they must be exchanged and filed 7 days before the first CMC. The sanction for not filing a budget is contained in CPR 3.14 and is extraordinarily draconian: "Unless the Court orders otherwise, any party which fails file a budget despite being required to do so will be treated as having filed a budget comprising only the applicable court fees". This sanction grabbed the headlines recently in the Andrew Mitchell MP case (Mitchell v  News Group (2013) EWHC 2355), since his solicitors failed to file a budget on time and Master McCloud applied CPR 3.14 to its full effect (albeit only by analogy since the claim was a defamation action not strictly governed by the new Part 3 regime). She also gave permission of her own motion for the Claimant to appeal to the Court of Appeal. In Maisuria v London Borough of Ealing (Uxbridge CC, 18th September 2013, unreported) the Defendant did not file a costs budget until the day before the first CMC. However, when the Court sent out the CPR 23(1) notice of proposed allocation, the Defendant  completed the attached directions questionnaire indicating that the appropriate track was in dispute. The Defendant's case was that, based upon the existing medical evidence, the time estimate for trial (1 day) and the pleaded claim for special damage, it was a fast track case. The directions questionnaire contained a box stating that parties should file a costs budget in precedent H if the claim was "likely to be allocated to  the multi-track". The Defendant did not think it was likely, or indeed that the evidence supported a claim in excess of £25,000, and therefore elected not to do so. Shortly before the CMC, the Claimant served additional expert evidence indicating that his injury had not recovered in accordance with the original prognosis and was more serious than had been anticipated. In light of this deterioration, the Defendant accepted that the case should now be allocated to the multi-track and filed a Costs Budget on the day before the CMC. The Claimant argued that, by analogy with the Andrew Mitchell MP case, the Defendant should be limited to a costs budget comprising its Court fees, pursuant to CPR 3.14. DDJ Sofaer concluded, however, that the Mitchell case was distinguishable on its facts. Whereas in that case the reasons for not filing a budget related to the solicitors being under pressure of work and experiencing unexpected delays, in this case there had been a genuine jurisdictional dispute as to whether this was a multi-track case at all, and the Defendant had been served with the relevant evidence late in the day. The Court had a discretion built in to CPR 3.14 ('Unless the Court orders otherwise') and it was not necessary for the Defendant to make a separate application for relief from sanction. Accordingly, the Court approved the Defendant's (and Claimant's) budget and did not apply the sanction.

Playing with fire

Do the Fire Services as employers owe duties under health and safety regulations or at common law, or does a  ‘fireground immunity’ exist? These questions were dealt with by Irwin J in the tragic case of the Wembridge Claimants and others v East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and others [2013] EWHC 2331. Two fire-fighters were killed and a number of people were injured when a container containing fireworks (estimated to have the equivalent to 190/300 kilograms of TNT) exploded. A farm was used for the storage of fireworks near Lewes which has the reputation of the fireworks capital of the UK. Two Mr Winters ran the outfit. One of the Mr Winters was inserting a detonator into a firework when it went off. He dropped it and ran and it then set light to other fireworks in his van which exploded and set fire to other parts of the farm. Alarmed nearby residents heard massive explosions and called the fire brigade. The Mr Winters were acting in breach of the relevant licensing conditions. When fire officers arrived they spoke to Messrs Winter. One made it plain that if fire reached a particular container then no one should be around when it did. The other Mr Winter tried to cover up and said that his brother didn’t know what he was talking about and that the container only contained wood. The Winters were subsequently convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence and one was sentenced to 7 and the other 4 years imprisonment. It was argued on behalf of the Fire Service that as the obligations imposed on them under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 were not intended to give rise to civil liability for breach, the same should apply to the regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It was also argued that the health and safety regulations were ultra vires when applied to fire-fighters. This was rejected by Irwin J who was of the view that breach of regulations was actionable except when the 1974 Act expressly excluded them. The Act did not do so for fire-fighters but did do so for the police. Some narrow exceptions were expressly made for fire-fighters under the Work at Height Regulations 2005 which would not have been made if they did not apply generally to fire fighters. Of particular interest given the pending general abolition of civil liability for breach of health and safety regulations was the argument that the Framework Directive 89/3914/EEC excluded application of domestic legislation to fire fighters. This will prove particularly interesting when the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 is brought into effect: many emanations of the state will be sued for breaches of EU Directives rather than the UK regulations. The fire service will then be able to argue immunity. For the time being member states are able to impose more onerous duties than those required by EU Directives and thus this argument did not assist the Fire Service. As to the duty at common law, the judge rejected the concept of a ‘fireground immunity’. He relied heavily on the dicta of Hale L.J. in Sussex Ambulance Trust v King [2002] EWCA Civ 953 where she said that the starting point was that an Ambulance Service owed the same duty of care towards its employees as does any other employer. She said that there was no special rule in English law qualifying the obligations of others towards fire-fighters or police officers, ambulance technicians and others whose occupations in the public service were inherently dangerous. Such public servants accepted the risks inherent in their work but not the risks which the exercise of reasonable care on the part of those who owe them a duty of care could avoid. Irwin J. thought it better that judgments were made on the facts about finely balanced decisions taken on the ground and failure to follow established practices rather than the blanket application of an immunity. The Fire Service was found in breach of duty for failure to recognise the risk of fireworks stored in bulk. It was found that there was inadequate knowledge and training. Had that not been so the site would have been evacuated earlier and the deaths avoided. The case is part of a general trend of the courts over the past 15 years of shying away from general immunities. The Fire Services were represented by Lord Faulks QC of 1 Chancery Lane. (Photo by Ian Britton and courtesy of freefoto.com)

CPRwatch: relief from sanctions

Does the original checklist under rule 3.9 (relief from sanctions) have any role now? That question was considered by Hildyard J in Thevarajah v Riordan (9th August 2013, unreported). The Claimant sought to strike out the Defendant’s Defence for failure to comply with an unless order in relation to disclosure. The Defendant sought relief from sanctions under CPR r. 3.9. The Defendant admitted that he had failed to give disclosure as ordered and the judge found that there were serious failings. The judge found that, although the checklist of relevant considerations under r.3.9 had been removed and replaced, they were nonetheless matters which the court needed to consider as they enabled the court to consider whether relief from sanctions was appropriate under the new r.3.9. Lest there be any doubt that he was reverting to the old ways of doing things the judge emphasised that the new r. 3.9 was not less rigorous but more so: the court should be slow under the new r.3.9 to draw the conclusion that relief from sanctions was appropriate and just. Once non-compliance with an unless order was established, what was required for relief from sanctions was a material change in circumstances (Tarn Insurance Services Ltd v Kirby [2009] EWCA Civ 19). There was no material change in circumstances in Thevarajah; in fact the Defendant’s position had worsened. Further, the Defendant was unable to show he had taken reasonable steps to comply with the unless order and therefore no relief was granted. This case highlights the fact that fundamentally rule 3.9 has not changed. The most important part of the old and the new rule is the emphasis on the court considering 'all the circumstances' so as to deal with the application justly. The original checklist was cumbersome but nonetheless a helpful steer as to what circumstances might be relevant. The new checklist is much less helpful: it merely repeats what a court must already take account of under the overriding objective. A judge who only took account of the need for efficiency, proportionality and compliance with court orders would be failing to take account of all the circumstances. Judges know that they are supposed to be tougher, but ultimately what most of them consider to be just in 'all the circumstances' is unlikely to have changed despite the best efforts of Jackson L.J.

The Length of Judgments and the Cost of Litigation

For a number of reasons, the cost of litigation is a hot topic at the moment.   Lord Justice Mummery in giving the lead judgment of the Court of Appeal in Neumans LLP v Andrew Andronikou & Ors [2013] EWCA Civ 916, suggested a way that he and his brethren could assist in ensuring that legal costs are kept to a minimum by judges keeping their judgments as short as possible.   He held that this would (at paragraph 40 of the judgment) “stem the soaring costs of litigants when their advisers have to spend too long working out what the law is. They may be faced with a multiplicity of separate, complex, discursive and (increasingly, imitating the style of subordinate legislation) cross-referential judicial pronouncements at different levels of decision, or at the same level of decision, but sometimes leading to the same overall result.” In this case which concerned a solicitor’s costs generated by the liquidation of Portsmouth Football Club, the Court of Appeal upheld the judgement below of Mr Justice Morgan.   Lord Justice Mummery asked (at paragraph 36): “What sensible purpose could be served by this court repeating in its judgments detailed discussions of every point raised in the grounds of appeal and the skeleton arguments when they have already been dealt with correctly and in detail in the judgment under appeal? No purpose at all, in my view.”   He advocated (at paragraph 37) that courts should follow the “excellent lead” of Lord Wilberforce in Brumby v Milner (1975) 51 TC 583. In this case, Lord Wilberforce (with whom the rest of the court agreed) gave a single page opinion In a one-page tax opinion, stating that he would go no further in stating the law than the Court of Appeal had done below (who themselves affirmed the judgment of Walton J at first instance).    Lord Justice Mummery continued (at paragraphs 38-39):   “… The proper administration of justice does not require this court to create work for itself, for other judges, for practitioners and for the public by producing yet another long and complicated judgment only to repeat what has already been fully explained in a sound judgment under appeal. If the judgment in the court below is correct, this court can legitimately adopt and affirm it without any obligation to say the same things over again in different words. The losing party will be told exactly why the appeal was dismissed: there was nothing wrong with the decision appealed or the reasons for it.”    “… It can do so, as in an old style judgment, by setting out short legal propositions relevant to this case and the conclusions reached by applying them in this case. It does not begin to attempt to cover all the law on administration and liquidation expenses. That would not be a proper exercise in a judgment.”

Lights, Camera … Appeal!

    It’s Channel 4’s fault!   Was it just coincidence that on 10 July, the day after “The Murder Trial” was first screened on television, the Court of Appeal (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2013 was published?   Or that yesterday (17 July) saw the release of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (Commencement No 3) Order 2013 which, amongst other things, permits the Lord Chancellor by order to enable the making and use of films and other recordings of proceedings in courts in England and Wales?   Nick Holt's documentary concerned the retrial of Nat Fraser for the murder of his wife, Arlene, in Scotland. Mr. Fraser had already been tried and found guilty but in 2011 his conviction was quashed by the Supreme Court and the Channel 4 film followed his retrial.   Compressing a five week trial into two hours was always going to be challenging. Six remote cameras were placed inside the courtroom in Edinburgh with the consent of all the parties including Mr. Fraser who was re-convicted for the murder of his wife whose body has never been found after she went missing in 1998.   The public can already watch proceedings in the Supreme Court. The new Order sets out the conditions under which broadcasters in England and Wales will be able to film in the Court of Appeal later this year.   Currently, section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 makes it an offence to film in court and section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 makes it a contempt of court to record sound in court except with the permission of the court. The new Order provides that these provisions do not apply where the conditions in the Order have been satisfied. There is power in the Order to prescribe the types of hearing that can be recorded, what part of the hearing can be recorded and who can record a hearing. There is also power to set out when the recording of a hearing in the Court of Appeal can be broadcast and what content is permitted in a broadcast.   In “The Murder Trial” I thought Mr. Fraser's defence team did a pretty good job on his behalf. However, dramatic compromises were still necessary. These included the action in the court room being interspersed with shots of isolated forest tracks and a soundtrack clearly chosen to ratchet up the tension and anxiety.   Personally, I get all the tension and anxiety I need just by being in the Court of Appeal but when drafting my next skeleton argument, I will definitely give some thought to the music to go with it … just in case!          

Jackson: when is a deadline for an order not 'written in stone'?

The case of Re Atrium Training Services Limited [2013] EWHC 1562 (Ch) is the latest judgment from the High Court which considers the new rules. The judge was faced with an application to extend time to comply with a court order for a massive disclosure exercise. This came against a background of a history of breaches of a timetable set by the court. The judge underlined the strictness of the new regime but tempered it with comments which are likely to be cited for a long time to come about the dates for compliance with some court orders not being ‘sensibly regarded as written in stone’. He granted the extension of time sought but made an Unless order for compliance. The judge was clear that the application was for an extension of time made before the deadline for compliance with the court order had passed. It was therefore to be decided under the overriding objective and not as an application for relief of sanctions. The Court of Appeal set out the guidelines for applications for extensions of time in Robert v Momentum Services Ltd [2003] EWCA Civ 299. Since then the overriding objective has been amended to include the enforcement of and compliance with orders. Henderson J said that a court would examine an application for an extension more rigorously than it might have done before 1st April and he discouraged the easy assumption that an extension would be granted just because there was no prejudice to the other side. However Henderson J went on to counterbalance this by saying that it was important not to go to the other extreme and to avoid encouraging unreasonable opposition to extensions which are applied for in time and which involve no significant prejudice to other parties. He said “in cases of that nature, considerations of cost and proportionality are highly relevant, and the wider interests of justice are likely to be better served by a sensible agreement, or a short unopposed hearing, than by the adoption of entrenched positions and the expenditure of much money and court time in preparing for and dealing with an application that could have been avoided.” In fact he went even further saying: “although all court orders mean what they say, and must be complied with even if made by consent, there are some orders relating to the completion of specified stages in preparation for trial (such as disclosure, the exchange of witness statements, or a timetable for expert evidence) where there may be so many imponderables when the order is made that the date for compliance cannot sensibly be regarded as written in stone. Everything will always depend on the circumstances of the particular case, and the stage in proceedings when the order is made, but in many such cases it should be understood that there may be a need for reasonable extensions of time or other adjustments as the matter develops. It would, I think, be unfortunate if the new and salutary emphasis on compliance with orders were to lead to a situation where, in cases of the general type I have described, a reasonable request for an extension of time were to be rejected in the hope that the court might be persuaded to refuse any extension at all.”   It is undoubtedly better to be applying for an extension of time before a deadline expires than for relief from sanctions afterwards. The pragmatic approach of Henderson J will be particularly useful if you find yourself in that situation.

What is a Witness Statement?

What is a witness statement? What is it for? And what should it contain?   These are all questions which ought to be simple-enough to answer. However frequently it appears to those involved in litigation that the simple-enough answers are not always correct! Witness statements not infrequently go wildly beyond the confines of a lay witness’s actual knowledge of proceedings; opinions and hearsay are sneaked in; and witnesses sometimes appear to make sweeping legal submissions. It is not always easy to persuade a trial judge in a preliminary oral application ahead of a case to strike through offending paragraphs. One is often met with a rebuff that any offensive aspects of a witness statement will merely be judicially ignored.   A recent judgment of the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Terence Etherton in J D Wetherspoon plc v Harris & Ors [2013] EWHC 1088 (Ch) may provide a litigator in such a situation with a useful authority, as well as affording guidance to anyone drafting witness evidence in a civil case.   In his judgment, the Chancellor exemplified the tenor of the latest round of CPR reform in advocating a back-to-basics and streamlined approach to witness statements.    The applicant (a firm which really does seem to have made a far greater than average contribution to the jurisprudence of personal injury law – now it seems, even from the Chancery Division) made the bold application to strike out the majority of a witness statement adduced by one of the defendant parties. This was upon the basis that the said witness statement contained little more than a recitation of facts based upon documents, commentary upon those documents, argument, submissions and expressions of opinion. In short, Wetherspoons thought the witness statement was improper and abusive.   Counsel for the two respondent parties submitted that as his clients were accused of dishonesty, and as neither party employed any personnel who had direct knowledge of the subject matter of the allegations of dishonesty, they were entitled to adduce evidence refusing the accusations with reference to the documents available in the case.    The Court disagreed and with reference to CPR 32.4 (and paragraph 7 of the Chancery Guide, 7th Edition), held that the witness could not give such opinion evidence orally at trial, nor could he comment factually upon events to which he had no first-hand knowledge or make submissions. Thus, it was held (whilst acknowledging that the said rules were not set in stone and in certain circumstances could be relaxed) that the witness could not give such evidence in written form as contained within the witness statement.  

When is a dentist not a dentist? Tooth whitening and the Dentists Act 1984

The nation's passion for cosmetic enhancement continues apace.  When I was a child we Brits were as perplexed by the American obsession with even shiny white teeth as the Americans were by our yellow snaggly tombstones.  Nowadays simply turning on the television can be blinding.  Every presenter, actor and popstar seems to bare even rows of bright, white veneers.  I am often reminded of one of my favourite episodes of Friends: "The One With Ross's Teeth".  After an ill advised teeth whitening treatment Ross ends up on a date caked in makeup and mute.  The enthusiasm for dental perfection has led to a huge industry in tooth whitening and a similar campaign by dentists against "illegal" tooth whitening.  It has also been a growth industry for healthcare lawyers.  This week the courts have turned their attention to whether tooth whitening constitutes the "practice of dentistry" within the meaning of s. 37(1) of the Dentists Act 1984.  In General Dental Council v Jamous the Divisional Court concluded that tooth whitening does indeed fall within this definition and, as a result, a person not qualified as a dentist is prohibited from providing this treatment.  This decision seems likely to cause quite a shake up in the industry and it will be interesting to see whether the issue is taken any further. 

Personal responsibility, unfortunate accidents and the liability of occupiers

Criminal lawyers are often asked how they can bring themselves to defend people who they know are guilty.  Actually, I am asked that not infrequently too...  But the more common dinner party accusation aimed at civil common law lawyers is: "Pft!  Nanny state!  People can sue for anything nowadays!  Don't people have to take some responsibility for themselves?"  I have two responses to this.  My usual one is to disappear behind my glass of wine before changing the subject.  The other is to say that yes, people bring some ridiculous claims, but it doesn't necessarily mean they win.  The newspaper reading nation has been shocked by publicity about some of the claims brought by police officers injured in the course of their duties that have been pursued.  I don't know any lawyers in our line of business who have.  One has the impression that the Court of Appeal were perhaps a little vexed by the case of Tacagni v Cornwall County Council and ors.  Judgment was handed down yesterday.  Ms Tacagni sued various parties.  Her claim was dealt with under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957.  After consuming eight drinks over a "long" evening Ms Tacagni was walking home in the dark with her partner.  They had no torch and she was wearing uncomfortable shoes.  The pair walked along a raised pathway that ran approximately two metres above and alongside a road until they decided that it was too dark and turned back.  Ms Tacagni's partner left her to go and call a taxi.  Ms Tacagni set off on her own, using a fence to guide her along the path. Following the line of the fence Ms Tacagni left the path, crossed 4.8 metres of grass and fell off the edge of the raised section onto the road below. The fence had been erected around an area of the pathway's retaining wall which had collapsed in 2001. The Court at first instance heard some evidence from the Defendant about concerns one of its employees had had about whether the fence was sufficient to protect cyclists and children.  The judge was obviously swayed by this criticism and found for the claimant, with a two thirds deduction for contributory negligence.  The Court of Appeal allowed the local authority's appeal and dismissed Ms Tacagni's claim.  Their lordships concluded that the evidence as a whole did not warrant the judge's finding that the local authority had unreasonably failed to guard against the risk of accident that in fact befell Ms Tacagni. It was hard to envisage that a person would be using the fence as a guide and that it would not have been obvious to them that they were departing from the path and crossing a significant portion of the grass. Accordingly, the evidence did not warrant the conclusion that the local authority had breached its common duty of care.  The judge had left out a material factor in his evaluation: the degree of care that was to be expected of an ordinary visitor under s.2(3) of the Act. So next time you find yourself at a dinner party being harangued about the state of the law and the fact that people are not expected to take care for themselves you can disappear behind your glass of wine secure in the knowledge that, for the purposes of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 at least, from time to time the courts conclude that yes they do.   Image: © Bellemedia | <a href="http://www.dreamstime.com/">Dreamstime Stock Photos</a> & <a href="http://www.stockfreeimages.com/">Stock Free Images</a>  

"In Loco Parentis": the liability of schools when disaster strikes

Summer school trips were one of the high points of the year when I was a child. I don't think anyone wholly forgets the bubbling anticipation that comes with the prospect of a totally brilliant trip.  Some were better than others.  An adventure weekend to Windermere where we jumped out of canoes and walked rope bridges was amazing.  The day trip to Martin Mere Wetland Centre was less good.  We sat on the coach for an extra two hours because the driver got lost.  It rained.  I can barely express the excitement that accompanied the school Centenary special trip to Alton Towers.  School trip season is approaching again now that the summer term has begun and, as usual, I reflect on the current state of the law.  It distresses me when it is said that the law is making it impossible for schools to give the next generation the same opportunities we had.  Organising, planning and supervising trips is an intimidating task.  Whilst the law rightly expects schools to take their obligations seriously - planning trips with care - media hype about the perils of litigation is perhaps overstated.  As the Court of Appeal has demonstrated once again, even the most tragic of cases will not necessarily succeed if the school has done its job properly and the claimant cannot show that any errors that might be identified would have made any difference.  Judgment was handed down last Friday in Wilkin-Shaw (Administratrix of the Estate of Charlotte Shaw (Deceased)) v (1) Christopher Fuller; (2) Kingsley School Bideford Trustee Co Ltd [2013] EWCA Civ 410. On 4 March 2007 Charlotte Shaw was 14 years old and participating in a training event for the Ten Tors challenge as part of a team from her school.  The team had completed one day of the training weekend. On the second day their supervising teacher decided that they had proved themselves under supervision and that it was appropriate for the team to progress to remote supervision and carry out a planned walk unaccompanied, checking in at pre arranged points with teachers.  The group successfully completed the second leg of the day's planned journey and arrived at a check point about an hour earlier than expected.  The teachers who they expected to meet were not there.  The supervising teacher spoke to the leader of the group (a pupil) on the telephone and told them to wait.  It transpired that the two members of staff who were supposed to meet them had lost their way and missed the checkpoint. When the teachers contacted the supervising teacher they were told to return to their car. The supervising teacher then received a telephone call from a scoutmaster (T) who had encountered the children waiting at the checkpoint. He told the supervising teacher that the group was starting to get cold and should continue walking. The direct route to the next check point led across the Walla Brook, which was swollen with rain water and uncrossable at that point. The supervising teacher spoke again to the group by telephone and told them to start walking but not to cross Walla Brook but to go round its head.  After the children had started out on the next leg T became involved again and offered to show the group where he had crossed Walla Brook earlier. While attempting to cross, with T's assistance, Charlotte fell in.  She was swept away by the strong current and drowned.  At trial the case was against the school alleging vicarious liability for the supervising teacher's negligence.  That claim was dismissed. Last Friday the Court of Appeal gave judgment on the appeal.  The case on appeal was rather different than at first instance but the Court allowed it to be pursued.  It was argued on behalf of Charlotte's mother that the teacher who should have been present at the checkpoint to meet the children was negligent in getting lost and that had she been present the children would not have followed the advice of T, the scout master they met while waiting at the checkpoint. The Court of Appeal found that the teacher had been negligent, but concluded that it was highly speculative to consider what would have happened had she been at the checkpoint.  The Court considered the duties of a checkpointer and considered that she may well have checked the fitness of the children then sent them on their way, so that she would not have been present on their return when they met T.  Even had she remained at the checkpoint the intervention of T would have broken the chain of causation. Whilst it would be wrong to suggest that anyone should take cheer from a tragic case of this sort, schools should take comfort from the care and rigor with which this case was considered at both first instance and on appeal. I hope that the legacy of this case is to emphasise that exciting trips should be planned properly and carefully, with appropriate training and supervision, but happen they should.