piBlawg

the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Applicable Law in Tort and the Instruction of Expert Witnesses

Wall v Mutuelle de Poitiers Assurances [2014] EWCA Civ 138; LTL This appeal arose out of a preliminary issue trial on the proper meaning of Articles 1.3 and 15 of the Rome II Regulation in the context of permission to rely on expert (medico-legal) evidence which was to be adduced on behalf of an Englishman who suffered spinal cord injury during the course of a visit to France. Liability was conceded and it was common ground that the English Court had jurisdiction. However, the applicable law was that of France. The Defendant sought to restrict the Claimant's medico-legal expert evidence to the kind of French or "French-style" expert evidence that might be permitted by a French Court. The Defendant's arguments were rejected at first instance ([2013] EWHC 53 (QB)) and subsequently on appeal. The Court of Appeal gave important and timely guidance on the proper approach to expert evidence in claims of this kind (and on the meaning of Articles 1.3, 15 of and recital (33) to the Rome II Regulation).

'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)

Personal Injury practices safe 'at this stage'

“Will they or won’t they?” has been the question for many personal injury lawyers wondering whether their practices were about to disappear into oblivion with the raising of the small claims limit. The question has now been answered: “not at this stage”. The government clearly thinks that it would be good to raise it. However it does not intend to do so ‘at this stage’ because it might have an adverse effect on victims of RTAs with genuine injuries. It wants to develop safeguards before an increase in the limit is considered. The government has also responded to the consultation on its proposal to set up panels of independent medical experts. It intends to go ahead with this with the intention of having experts who give better advice on whiplash injuries. The view is that only reports from accredited medical experts would be accepted in evidence in whiplash claims. Reports will be in a standardised format and the government intends to stop experts being paid by those who favour a certain outcome. Further work is to be done before a proposal is published. You may or may not have been aware that the transport select committee had recommended reducing the limitation period for road traffic cases involving personal injury from three years. The government has made it clear it does not intend to do so. Such a move would make the law of limitation more complicated and would cause a massive surge in litigation – at a point when the court system is struggling in any event. The government has also suggested measures to challenge fraudulent or exaggerated claims. These include better data collection in order to establish the extent of the problem, prohibiting settlement without a medical report and the sharing of data by insurance companies with claimant solicitors to help claimant lawyers carry out ‘know your client checks’. Whether this will really make any difference is open to doubt – one school of thought is that vehicle technology (dashboard cameras, speed recording devices etc) will only really make a difference.

CRO's: When is it time to go for 'the General'?

Some of you in the world of personal injury and clinical negligence may have had the misfortune of encountering vexatious litigants. Those litigants where another file opens, before the last file is closed - where much time, money and energy is spent on claims and applications that are eventually struck out as being totally without merit.   Following the case of Russell West v Gary Taylor-Duncan & Ors [2013] handed down on 12 September 2013, I thought a brief post on Civil Restraint Orders might be called for. In my experience, these orders are being sought more frequently. However, one must be careful to ensure that they are applying for the correct type of order and that they pass the relevant hurdles. It can be all too tempting to apply for the most extensive order too soon.   ·         A Limited Civil Restraint Order binds the Claimant from making further applications in the index claim without first obtaining permission.   ·         An Extended Civil Restraint Order (which is not the most “extensive” order, despite what the name may suggest) prevents the litigant from issuing further applications or claims    ·         Lastly, the General Civil Restraint Order prevents the litigant from issuing any claim or application in any of the specified courts without first obtaining permission. It is long since accepted that these orders do not infringe Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights because it does not bar the subject of the order from litigating; it simply limits their freedom to litigate so that they must obtain permission before issuing. It is often tempting to rush for the General Civil Restraint Order. But these orders are made in very limited circumstances. The case of West v Taylor-Duncan (2013) helpfully demonstrates the point. Mr West had persistently issued unmeritorious claims and re-litigated matters. The Court had no trouble concluding that a Civil Restraint Order of some kind was appropriate. The Court carefully reviewed the seven unmeritorious claims and found that there was a “common thread” between them – thus suggesting that an Extended CRO was appropriate.  Indeed, in some respects there was a significant overlap between the claims (in terms of cause of action and the facts), which is why the Master had stated that some of them were wholly without merit. On behalf of the Defendants it was argued that some of the claims were wider than the index claim, and sought a General Civil Restraint order on the basis that Mr West was now issuing claims based on a wider factual and legal basis. The Court found that there was some force in the Defendants’ argument that some of the claims went wider than the index claim. However, the matter was borderline and the court had to be satisfied that an extended Civil Restraint Order would not be appropriate in order to make a General CRO. There was no doubt that if Mr West continued in the same vein and brought wholly without merit claims not caught by an Extended CRO, a General CRO would suitable; however, it was not yet appropriate. Accordingly, Mr West was made subject to an Extended CRO. This illustrates that you must be prepared for the court to closely examine the earlier claims and applications (simply evidencing that the claims were struck as totally without merit is not sufficient), and you must satisfy the court that the less extensive order is not sufficient. If the Extended CRO proves insufficent, it remains open to you to make a further application for a General CRO during the course of the Extended CRO. This could mean more time, cost and energy - but you just might get there in the end! concerning any matter involving and/or relating to and/or touching upon and/or leading to the index proceedings without first obtaining permission.    

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.

Relief from sanctions – le plus ça change?

As noted in previous blog entries, post April judges have been encouraged to take a much firmer line with applications for relief from sanctions – see for example Venulum Property Investments Ltd v Space Architecture Ltd [2013[ EWHC 1242 (TCC); Thevarajah and others v Riordan and others (9/08/13). However, Rayyan Al Iraq Co Ltd v Trans Victory Marine Inc (23/8/13) provides a useful counter-example for a party seeking relief for a relatively small error with little or no consequence. There, the claimant, through oversight, served the Particulars of Claim two days late. The claimant made a retrospective application to extend time, which was opposed. The judge noted the new CPR 3.9 and the change in the attitude of the courts, but held that this did not mean relief should be refused where that would be disproportionate and give the other side an unjustified windfall. In the circumstances, the judge did not consider the delay affected the administration of justice. The delay was caused by a mistake, while regrettable this was not egregious; an explanation had been given; the application had been made promptly. The claim had been brought in time. The judge also expressed the view that the defendant ought not to have sought to exploit this error. It seems to this author that the result might well have been different had there been a background of failure to comply with orders and less of a good explanation for the error. Is taking advantage of a procedural or court ordered time bar an unjustified windfall? In the context of limitation, in Howard v Fawcetts Lord Scott (at 32) explained that time limits were an attempt to strike a balance between competing interests. But it must be right that, in the case of a very short delay for which there is a good explanation; absent a history of procedural failure; and if there is no prejudice to the other side in granting relief, not doing so would be to provide the other side with a windfall.  

CPR 3.14 - How Explicit and Draconian?

The notes in the White Book below Civil Procedure Rule 3.14 suggests the “rule is explicit and the consequences of failure to comply Draconian”. The rule itself provides that “Unless the court otherwise orders, any party which fails to file a budget despite being required to do so will be treated as having filed a budget comprising only the applicable court fees.” It has yet to be tested by way of an appeal to the Court of Appeal (despite the author’s best efforts on several occasions). However it would appear that guidance is likely to be forthcoming soon. In an interesting twist to an interesting case, the High Court limited costs awarded to Andrew Mitchell MP in his litigation against The Sun to applicable court fees only due to his "absolute failure" to discuss budget assumptions with the newspaper and failure to ask for additional time in advance. At a case management conference in June of this year, Mitchell and The Sun were ordered to exchange costs budges as per the new CPR regime. Mr Mitchell’s lawyers however failed to do so and thus the court, in accordance with the explicit and draconian wording of CPR 3.14, held that he would thus be "limited to a budget consisting of the applicable court fees for his claim". After hearing evidence about the reasons behind the non-compliance the sanction was not lifted. Master McCloud took a strict approach and is widely reported as holding that: “Budgeting is something which all solicitors by now ought to know is intended to be integral to the process from the start, and it ought not to be especially onerous to prepare a final budget for a CMC even at relatively short notice if proper planning has been done…", and that "The court must now, as part of dealing with cases justly, ensure that cases are dealt with at proportionate cost and so as to ensure compliance with rules, orders and practice directions…" The Master noted that it would have been "far more likely" that the sanction would have been lifted against Mitchell before the reform of the CPR in this regard. However she said that in "the absence of authority on precisely how strict the courts should be and in what circumstances", and "[i]t will be for the appeal court to determine whether such a strict approach is appropriate". That appeal would be "on the basis that the severe nature of the sanction which I have imposed in giving effect to [the costs reforms] ... are of necessity not backed by specific authority on point, and the risk of injustice if I were adopting too strict an approach is such as to provide 'some other compelling reason' for an appeal to be heard”.

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.

Litigants in Person, the Judges and You!

      According to the government's own figures, 623,000 of the 1,000,000 people who previously received public funding each year ceased to be eligible for such assistance when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 came into force on 1 April 2013.   On 5 July 2013 the Judicial Working Group on Litigants in Person (LIPs) published its report on how the judiciary proposes to deal with the massive increase in LIPs in courts and tribunals. It merits careful reading by all practitioners.    www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Reports/lip_2013.pdf    The challenges are immense and will be further increased by the impending rise in the financial limit for the small claims track from £5,000 to £10,000. A doubling of this limit will inevitably mean more cases fall within the small claims track where public funding is not available. As for alternative sources of assistance, the Citizens Advice Bureau estimates that local advice and community based services will lose over 77% of their public funding.    In 2012, District Judge Richard Chapman, the immediate past president of the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges observed that already:   “Judges like me are spending more and more of our time having to deal with litigants who simply do not know the law, have never heard of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 or the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and have breached most of the case management directions”.    The report recommends that the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service should devote the necessary time and resources to producing, with judicial involvement, appropriate materials, including audio-visual materials, to inform LIPs what is required of them and what they can expect when they go to court as well as reviewing the information that is currently publically accessible on the various judicial websites – see [2.8] and [3.49-3.52] of the report.   The Judicial College should also urgently assess the  feasibility of providing training on LIPs –  a sort of “Quick Lit” course for judges – together with developing a  “litigants in person toolkit” utilising the existing judicial guidance – see [2.9] and [4.9-4.19] of the report.   More far reaching proposals include:   1.      The inclusion in the CPR of a dedicated rule which makes specific modifications to other rules where one or more of the parties to proceedings is a litigant in person.  2.      The introduction of a power into Rule 3.1 CPR to permit the court to direct, where at least one party is an LIP, that proceedings should be conducted as a more inquisitorial form of process.  3.      The introduction of a specific general practice direction or new rule in the CPR to address, without creating a fully inquisitorial form of procedure, the needs of  LIPs in obtaining access to justice whilst enabling  courts to manage cases consistently – see [2.10] and [5.11] of the report.    The stark reality is that in some courts and tribunals LIPs will be the rule rather than the exception. This will inevitably slow down and drive up the cost of proceedings and take up valuable judicial time. Equally inevitably, the call will surely go out from the judges to practitioners at all levels for assistance in responding to the challenges that lie ahead.   Image – www.123rf.com

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.