piBlawg

the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Personal Injury and the Party Manifestos

Is there anything in the parties' manifestos which might affect the field of personal injury? Reforms since 2010 include a new fixed costs regime, costs management/budgeting and greatly increased court fees. Civil liability has been removed for breaches of health and safety regulations. But what is being promised for the future? The Conservative Manifesto includes a pledge to reform human rights law. It would scrap the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights. The intention is that this will break the formal link between British Courts and the European Court of Human Rights making the Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.  More is said in the section on the European Union: the Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights but “will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society.” The manifesto also pledges to continue “the £375 million modernisation of our courts system, reducing delay and frustration for the public.” A commitment is also made for an ongoing review of legal aid. The Labour Manifesto takes the opposite view on the Human Rights Act. It states that Labour would protect it and reform rather than walk away from the European Court of Human Rights. The manifesto is silent on what that reform would be. The manifesto also includes a pledge that access to legal representation would not be determined by personal wealth but would remain available to those who need it. The Liberal Democrat Manifesto states that the Liberal Democrats would protect the Human Rights Act and enshrine the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in UK Law. It specifically states that the Liberal Democrats would take “appropriate action to comply with decisions of the UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights.” The Liberal Democrats have a commitment to introduce a Freedoms Act which would “cut back on the petty over-regulation of everyday life… permitting swimming in open bodies of water.” (Tomlinson v Congleton springs to mind…). They would “carry out an immediate review of civil Legal Aid… and court fees, in consultation with the judiciary…” They would “reverse any recent rises in up-front court fees that make justice unaffordable for many, and instead” spread the fee burden more fairly. They would also retain access to recoverable success fees and insurance premiums in asbestosis claims and where an individual is suing the police. There is also a pledge to support innovation like the provision of “civil justice online” and expansion of ADR. The UKIP Manifesto states that the burden of complying with EU laws on health and safety can be overwhelming for small firms. The manifesto has a commitment to repeal EU Regulations which stifle business growth. As to human rights, UKIP would remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and make the UK’s Supreme Court the final authority on matters of human rights. It would repeal the Human Rights Act and introduce a UK Bill of Rights which would complement the UN Declaration of Human Rights and “encapsulate all the human and civil rights that UK citizens have acquired under UK law since Magna Carta.” The Green Manifesto states it will “move towards a written constitution with a Bill of Rights” it also has a commitment to keeping the Human Rights Act and retaining the UK’s membership of the ECHR. There is a pledge to “restore the cuts to Legal Aid, costing around £700 million a year” although it is not clear whether this has anything to do with personal injury. It is interesting that none of the political parties have a commitment to reinstate civil liability for breach of health and safety regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.   Trivia Comparative lengths of the manifestos: Conservatives:                 84 pages Labour:                            86 pages Liberal Democrats:          158 pages UKIP:                              76 pages Green:                              84 pages   Commitment requiring more explanation: “Ban high-frequency Mosquito devices which discriminate against young people.” (Liberal Democrats)

Fee increase to take place next Monday

A dramatic hike in court fees is to take place on Monday 9th March 2015. The Law Society has published the following table (see below) of the new court fees suggesting solicitors consider issuing cases this week.    Employment Tribunal fees were increased in July 2013 and the effect is thought to have been to reduce the number of tribunal claims substantially. It remains to be seen whether the increase of court fees will have the same effect.   The move will inevitably raise questions as to whether access to justice is being made more difficult. It may also sharpen the debate about whether our legal system should be funded by society as a whole or simply by its users: is the civil justice system simply about settling disputes between individuals or does it benefit all of society to the extent that it should be funded overwhelmingly by the state? Is it just a questions of degree?   The Law Society has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Minister of Justice and it will be interesting to see how it puts its arguments if the matter reaches a hearing. 2 March 2015 Court fees increase from Monday 9 March Government increases in some civil court fees are due to come into effect on Monday 9 March. The increases affect money claims - both 'specified' and 'unspecified'. The Law Society, with other legal professional bodies, has criticised the fee increases and has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Ministry of Justice. Firms may wish to consider whether they should issue claims this week in order to avoid the increase. Example fee increases: Value of claim £ Fee now £ (paper) New fee £ Increase in fee £ % increase 20,000 610 1,000 390 64% 40,000 610 2,000 1,390 228% 90,000 910 4,500 3,590 395% 150,000 1,315 7,500 6,185 470% 190,000 1,315 9,500 8,185 622% 200,000 1,515 10,000 8,725 576% 250,000 1,720 10,000 8,280 481% Read about our campaign against the increases and our consultation response  

Retiring gracefully ... and gradually?

Most personal injury lawyers think a lot about retirement. This can be their own, in my case usually when grappling with costs budgets, but is more likely to be that of the party whose claim they are advancing or opposing. The date of retirement is crucial to the value of a loss of earnings claim.   Most personal injury schedules claim full time working to age 68 or even 70. Most counter schedules contend for retirement at age 65.   However, new research shows the way people view retirement is changing. Nearly two-thirds of people aged over 50 no longer think that working full time and then stopping work altogether is the best way to retire and around half would still like to be in work aged between 65 and 70.   YouGov surveyed more than 2,000 retired and non-retired people aged over 50.   https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/11/05/concept-gradual-retirement-attracts-non-retired-ad/   The survey showed:   39% of over 50s not currently retired said that working part time or flexible hours before stopping work altogether would be the best way to retire. 48% of those under 65 and not currently retired would still like to be in work between 65 and 70. 36% of retirees say their advice to others would be to “consider switching to flexible or part time work for a period first” before stopping work altogether. 33% of those over 70 and still working said they did so because they enjoyed it.   The survey also suggests that some non-retired people over 50 both in and out of work were ready to learn new skills. Nearly half (47%) said they were interested in attending training courses to learn new or to update existing skills.   There are lessons here for both schedulers and counter schedulers. An absolute retirement age of 65, 68 or even 70 may now be unrepresentative. Gradual retirement is increasingly the trend at least in England and Wales.   In “The Later Years of Thomas Hardy” (Macmillan, 1930), Florence Emily Hardy reports the author’s observation that:   “The value of old age depends upon the person who reaches it. To some men of early performance it is useless. To others, who are late to develop, it just enables them to finish the job”.   I cannot promise still to be working beyond age 70. If I am, I can promise it will not be on costs budgets!  

A prediction for 2015: costs budgeting is doomed

With the new year come predictions as to what will happen in 2015. Tom Standage of the Economist predicts that our smart phones will become smarter with the use of anticipatory or predictive intelligence - our phones may suggest we leave earlier for a dinner date if the traffic is bad or offer sending a message to other participants if we are late for meetings. Paul Lee of Deloittes predicts drones will be used more by business, Neil Murray of Mimecast unsurprisingly thinks that internet security will become an even greater issue and Simon Culmer thinks more customer service will be provided by video. These are some predictions from the technology of business pundits*. What of the law? It may be folly to make any predictions as to changes to the law but I would nonetheless hazard a guess that costs budgeting will either be abolished or reformed in 2015. Some judges are open in their dislike of costs budgeting whilst others betray their views more subtly in comments or general demeanour. Cost budget hearings must take up a large amount of court time and it is questionable whether they are looked at again in many cases before detailed assessment takes place (if indeed it does). Whereas in the past directions might have been agreed between the parties or dealt with briefly at a telephone CMC in multi track cases they are now dealt with at lengthy CCMC's. Large numbers of cases settle before getting to trial and in those cases the budgeting process adds to the use of court time and the costs incurred unnecessarily. The Costs Budgeting procedure has provided the legal profession with additional tasks for which we can bill and it has thrown a lifeline to costs draftsmen in the Jackson era. If costs budgeting is abolished or reformed the alternative may well be more predictive costs. It may be that costs budgeting will be retained for much higher value multi track claims but a predictive costs regime for those with a lower value. I wonder what my smart phone has to say about the matter... * http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-30442178

Shooting Admiral Byng

Admiral Byng was held responsible for the loss of Minorca in 1756. He was relieved of his command, court martialled and shot by a firing squad. Voltaire remarked of the decision to shoot him that it was beneficial to kill an Admiral from time to time “pour encourager les autres”. Although Hildyard J. made reference to Admiral Byng in his judgment in the case of Caliendo v Mishcon de Reya [2014] EWHC 3414 he was not prepared metaphorically to shoot the Claimant’s solicitors, DLA Piper LLP, to encourage the rest of us. DLA were 3 ½ months late in serving notice on the defendant of the existence of a CFA and an ATE policy in a professional negligence claim. They made an application for relief from sanctions at the time of service of proceedings and admitted that they had no good reason for their failure. The judge accepted the serious effect of the ATE/CFA funding arrangements but considered that what mattered for the first limb of the Denton test was the seriousness and significance of late notification. He held that the defendant had not been able to show ‘material prejudice’. This seems a slightly different test from whether or not the breach was ‘serious and significant’ - a failure to pay court fees was given as an example in Denton of a breach which is serious and significant but it cannot be said to cause ‘material prejudice’ to the other party. The judge’s application of the third limb of the Denton test (evaluation all the circumstances of the case so as to deal justly with the case) was also interesting. When dealing with the impact on other court users, the judge was keen to emphasise that he was not aware of any specific detriment to court users such as in Mitchell where the adjournment of the cost budget hearing caused an adjournment and the vacating of an asbestosis claim. It is submitted that the test of the impact on other court users has always been difficult – on the one hand information of a specific detriment is rarely likely to be available outside, perhaps, the masters’ corridor in the RCJ whereas, on the other hand, without such specific detriment the courts and parties will often be merely speculating. The judge did not consider it would be just to withhold relief from sanction. Whereas Denton undoubtedly softened the Mitchell regime, judgments such as this are taking us still closer to the former relief from sanctions test which focused on the requirements of justice - too late to save some of the Admiral Byngs of the past year.

QOCS does not apply to additional claims

The QOCS rules apply to a single claim against a defendant which includes a claim for damages for personal injury. In Wagenaar v Weekend Travel Ltd (t/a Ski Weekend) ([2014] EWCA Civ 1105) the Court of Appeal held that these rules are not applicable to the entire action in which a claim for damages for personal injury is made. Thus the QOCS rules did not apply to an additional claim under CPR Part 20 in which parties were disputing responsibility for the payment of damages.     C had been injured in a skiing accident whilst on a package holiday arranged by D. D denied negligence and joined W's ski instructor (TP) as a third party. The judge dismissed C's claim against D, and D's claim against TP. He ordered that C should pay D's costs, and that D should pay TP's costs. He applied the rules on QOCS, directing that, pursuant to CPR 44.13 and CPR 44.14, neither costs order was to be enforced. He held that the new QOCS rules applied to CPR Part 20 claims in the same way as they applied to primary claims between claimant and defendant. On appeal this ruling was overturned.        

Allocation and admissions

Where a defendant admits a part of a claim, how does the admission affect the allocation of the claim? This was the question considered in Akhtar v Boland [2014] EWCA Civ 872. The defendant filed a Defence admitting hire, recovery and storage charges in the sum of £2,496. The claimant’s claim was pleaded at more than £5,000 but less than £10,000. However, if the sum of £2,496 was subtracted from the pleaded claim, it fell below £5,000 and therefore was below the then current limit for the fast track. Following Allocation Questionnaires the district judge allocated the claim to the Small Claims Track. The claimant applied to have the claim reallocated to the Fast Track but the judge refused the application but entered judgment against the defendant for £2,496. The Court of Appeal held that the sum of £2,496 fell into the category of ‘any amount not in dispute’ which was to be disregarded pursuant to part 26.8(2)(a) when allocating the claim to a track. An admission is binding and the Court has no jurisdiction to investigate facts which have been admitted unless permission has been granted for the admission to be withdrawn. That principle applied even more strongly to a judgment: neither party may make submissions or adduce evidence whichwould lead to decisions or findings inconsistent with a judgment. The Court of Appeal also made it clear that where there was judgment for a part of a claim the claimant’s cause of action was not extinguished: the claimant was entitled to pursue and seek judgment for the balance. Tactically defendants may want to make admissions which will bring the value of the claim into the Small Claims Track. However they will need to be careful of the costs consequences of so doing as part 44.15(3)(iv) says the court may allow the claimant costs of the proceedings to the date of the admission of part of the claim. To avoid such costs consequences it would be prudent to make such an admission during the pre-action protocol period.

Jackson on Jackson

“It was no part of my recommendations that parties should refrain from agreeing reasonable extensions of time, which neither imperil hearing dates nor otherwise disrupt the proceedings” said Jackson L.J. in Hallam Estates Limited v Teresa Baker [2014] EWCA Civ 661. In Hallam the claimants (paying parties) asked for an extension of time for filing their points of dispute in proceedings for detailed assessment of costs. The defendant had been late in filing her bill of costs. Jackson L.J. held that they had given sensible reasons for asking for the extension and, given her own delay, the defendant could hardly object to a modest extension. Pursuant to r. 3.8(3) the court’s approval was required for such an extension but this should have been no more than a formality. In fact the judge approved it on paper without a hearing and this approach was endorsed by the Court of Appeal. Rule 3.8 is about to be amended to allow parties to agree extensions of time for up to 28 days as long as no hearing dates are imperilled. The parties have a duty to further the overriding objective (which includes allotting an appropriate share of the court’s resources to cases) and thus, according to the great man himself, agreeing reasonable extensions which don’t imperil dates or disrupt the course of litigation is not a breach of a legal representative’s duty to their client. Jackson L.J. made it clear that if an application was made for an extension of time before the expiry of the time permitted by a rule or practice direction the application remained an application for an extension of time even if time expired before the application was heard. He said that the principles governing relief from sanctions were not applicable in these circumstances. As was said in Mitchell itself, it is clearly better to make an application for an extension in advance if a deadline is likely not to be kept. Greater clarity has now been brought to the extent to which parties can agree extensions of time. A number of cases have now emphasised the need to identify whether a court sanction has actually been imposed by breach of a court order, rule or practice direction – not all breaches automatically result in a sanction and therefore it is doubtful that relief from sanctions is required in such circumstances.                

Costs Budgets and Unallocated Part 8 Claims issued before 22 April 2014

Some further clarity as to when to file costs budgets can be gleaned from the decision of Mr Justice Hickenbottom in the case of Kershaw v Roberts & Anor  [2014] EWHC 1037 (Ch). Here it was argued on appeal from the county court that the first directions hearing in a Part 8 Claim should be treated as the “first CMC” for the purposes of CPR 3.12-14 and thus costs budgets must be filed in advance.   It was argued that whilst the claim had not been allocated to the multi-track, this was inevitable as it was commenced by way of Part 8.   The learned judge however dismissed this argument, holding that the claim was not allocated to the multi-track until the district judge specifically allocated it to that track during the course of the county court hearing. IT was held that “consequently, that hearing itself was not – indeed could not have been – a CMC… The notice of the hearing did not refer to it as a CMC; and it seems to me clear that the court, in sending out that notice, never intended the hearing to be a CMC.”   This guidance is however of somewhat limited scope in that it only really applied to unallocated Part 8 Claims. This is because, on 1 April 2014 (the same day as the hearing of Kershaw), the Civil Procedure Rules Committee made amendments to the CPR by the Civil Procedure (Amendment No 4) Rules 2014 (SI 2014 No 867). Which are due to come into force on 22 April 2014. From that date, the costs management provisions of CPR Rule 3 Section 2 and CPR PD 3E (including costs budgets) will not automatically apply to any Part 8 claim. Those provisions will only apply if the court makes a positive order that they should (as expressly confirmed by new Rule 3.12(1A)).

'Plebgate', budgets, relief from sanctions and a new kind of justice

The Court of Appeal have now finally had their say on the Jackson Reforms: "...we hope that our decision will send out a clear message". The message is that a "new more robust approach..." has arrived. Failure to file a costs budget in time will result in parties being "treated as having filed a budget comprising only the applicable court fees" and relief from sanctions will only be granted where there has been a "trivial breach" or where there is a "good reason". The new approach "will mean that from now on relief from sanctions should be granted more sparingly than previously". Mr Mitchell's case (Andrew Mitchell MP v News Group Newspapers Limited [2013] EWCA Civ 1526) provided the perfect vehicle for the Court of Appeal. The Sun newspaper had reported that Mr Mitchell had engaged in a foul mouthed rant against police officers. Mr Mitchell issued proceedings alleging defamation on 7th March 2013. A CMC and costs budget hearing was fixed for 18th June 2013. On 17th June Master McCloud sent an e-mail to the parties' solicitors noting there was no budget for the claimant. The budget was filed that afternoon with an estimated figure of £506,425. Master McCloud ordered that the claimant be treated as having filed a budget comprising only the applicable court fees and she adjourned the CMC and budget hearing to another date at which any relief from sanctions application would be heard. That date involved her moving another hearing which had been listed to deal with claims arising out of "asbestos-related diseases". At that hearing she refused the application for relief from sanctions. Amongst other things she said there was no evidence of particular prejudice to Mr Mitchell, she took account of the Master of the Rolls' speach on the Jackson Reforms which said that a tough approach was required so that justice could be done in the majority of cases. She said that the stricter approach under the Jackson reforms had been central to her approach. The Court of Appeal upheld her decisions. As to confining the claimant to court fees, it said that CPR 3.14 (confining the defaulting party to court fees) was not just directed to the case of a party who does not file a budget at all. Budgets being filed in time (7 days prior to the hearing) was important in order to enable the hearing to be conducted efficiently and for discussions to take place beforehand. The judge was therefore not wrong to apply the sanction. As to relief from sanctions, the Court of Appeal said that the provision in 3.14 "unless the court otherwise orders" involved the same considerations as relief from sanctions under CPR r.3.9. All the circumstances of the case should be taken into account but more weight should be given to the two factors listed in the new rule (directed at efficiency, proportionate cost and compliance with rules etc.). The Master of the Rolls cited and endorsed his speech on the Jackson Reforms about a more robust approach and taking account of the failures to comply on other court users (illustrated, as though almost by design, by vacation of the hearing of the asbestos-related claims). Guidance was given by the Court of Appeal: relief will only be granted where the default is "trivial" for example where there has been a failure of form rather than substance and where a deadline has been narrowly missed. Where it is not trivial the burden is on the defaulting party to persuade the court to grant relief and it will need a "good reason". Examples given were a document not being filed due to a party or solicitor suffering from a debilitating illness or an accident or where later developments in litigation show the period for compliance was unreasonable. Merely overlooking a deadline on account of work or otherwise was unlikely to be a good reason. A key point for practitioners in difficulties is that applications for an extension of time made before time has expired will be looked upon more favourably than applications for relief made after the event. The Court of Appeal found the perfect case to make their point. It involved a politician from one of the parties currently in government and which is presiding over the reduction of resources in the court system. The vacating of the asbestos-related claim illustrated the knock on effect of inefficiency and failure in one claim on other litigation. However the decision is extremely harsh: failure to comply by 7 days on the part of his solicitors has meant that Mr Mitchell will be unable to recover the costs of his action if he is successful. Those costs are estimated to be £506,425 - which suggests that the sanction is hardly proportionate to the breach. One wonders whether there is not in fact a much more appropriate sanction. Mr Mitchell's solicitors have said that they will carry on and that he will not be affected financially by the judgment. But in other cases it might well lead to a claim for professional negligence - a step which would clog up the court system with more complicated satellite litigation. Are judges really to second guess what impact a failure might have on the court system as a whole when for the most part they have little evidence to assist them with attaching weight to this factor?The Master of the Rolls said in his speech that "the achievement of justice means something different now" - the extremity of this decision begs the question whether one would still define it as "justice" or just a hard form of utilitarianism.  Photo courtesy of freefoto.com (Photographer: Ian Britton)