piBlawg

the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Evidence and interim payment applications

  The High Court has given useful guidance (which serves as a warning) to defendants on their evidential obligations when defending applications for interim payments. In Sellar-Elliot v Howling [2016] EWHC 443 (QB) Sweeney J refused permission to appeal an interim payment order by Master Cook and held that it was not enough for a defendant to rely – when defending an application for an interim payment – on the defence (supported by a statement of truth) and a witness statement from a solicitor confirming that expert evidence supporting the defence had been obtained.   The defendant must go further and provide the court with some reasoned response to the claimant’s expert evidence (which had been unilaterally served to support the application in this case).  Even though – in accordance with court directions – the defendant had since served expert evidence disputing the claimant’s points, the court had to judge the interim payment application on the evidence before it at the time of the application.  In other words, and drawing on the Court of Appeal’s decision in Test Claimants in the FII Group Litigation v Revenue and Customs Comrs (No 2) [2012] 1 WLR 2375, the court must be satisfied that if the case went to trial on the material before the judge at the time of the application that the claimant would succeed and would obtain a substantial amount of money. Defendants therefore bear an evidential burden “to raise matters, on the basis of evidence, which would justify the court in concluding that a claimant would not succeed in obtaining substantial damages”  Sweeney J held that: “…the mere fact that the Defendant’s causation case was supported by reputable expert opinion, and that the Defendant’s expert would dispute the Claimant’s expert evidence at trial, did not mean that, on the evidence, the Claimant had failed to persuade [Master Cook] that the requisite test was met” The message for defendants would seem to be therefore that when a claimant chooses unilaterally to serve expert evidence to support an interim payment application, defendants must serve an argued and detailed expert response, even when the court has already directed that expert evidence is scheduled to be disclosed at a later date The case is on Bailli: http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2016/443.html&query=title+(+Sellar-Elliott+)+and+title+(+v+)+and+title+(+Howling+)&method=boolean                        

Fixed Costs and Part 36 Offers

What is the effect of a claimant’s ‘beaten’ Part 36 Offer upon their costs in a low value personal injury case within the RTA or EL/PL Protocol where claimants' costs are fixed pursuant to CPR 45? This has been a vexed question since the introduction of the fixed costs regime , but one the Master of the Rolls giving the sole judgment of the Court of Appeal in Broadhurst & Anor v Tan & Anor [2016] EWCA Civ 94 has now answered with important and far-reaching consequences for litigators in this area. The Court of Appeal held that Parliament and the draftsmen of the amended Rules intended Part 36 offers to have costs consequences in cases where they were bettered at trial even where costs were usually fixed. This means that, per Rule 36.14(3), where a claimant makes a successful Part 36 offer, the court will, unless it considers it unjust to do so, order that the claimant is entitled to four enhanced benefits including "(b) his costs on the indemnity basis from the date on which the relevant period expired” and thus (as held) the “tension between rule 45.29B and rule 36.14A must, therefore, be resolved in favour of rule 36.14A”, the specific provision taking precedence over the general.    At paragraphs 30 and 31, the Court held that:    “...The starting point is that fixed costs and assessed costs are conceptually different. Fixed costs are awarded whether or not they were incurred, and whether or not they represent reasonable or proportionate compensation for the effort actually expended. On the other hand, assessed costs reflect the work actually done... ...Where a claimant makes a successful Part 36 offer in a section IIIA case, he will be awarded fixed costs to the last staging point provided by rule 45.29C and Table 6B. He will then be awarded costs to be assessed on the indemnity basis in addition from the date that the offer became effective. This does not require any apportionment. It will, however, lead to a generous outcome for the claimant. I do not regard this outcome as so surprising or so unfair to the defendant that it requires the court to equate fixed costs with costs assessed on the indemnity basis... a generous outcome in such circumstances is consistent with rule 36.14(3) as a whole and its policy of providing claimants with generous incentives to make offers, and defendants with countervailing incentives to accept them.” Whether this clarification will lead to an increase or decrease in litigation will remain to be seen. Certainly the current interpretation of this (formerly) knotty issue ought to remind all litigators, but particularly those acting for claimant parties, of the importance of early, well-pitched Part 36 Offers in both encouraging settlement and giving rise to another means of escaping the confines of the fixed costs regime.

Part 36 Offer: derisory or genuine?

The case of Jockey Club Racecourse Ltd v Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd  [2016] EWHC 167 deals with two interesting questions: (1) does a Part 36 offer have to reflect an available outcome in the litigation to be valid? (2) when is it a genuine attempt to settle liability?  The case concerned a defective roof at the racecourse at Epsom. The claimant offered to settle the issue of liability on the basis that the defendant would “accept liability to pay 95% of our client’s claim for damages to be assessed.” The issues of liability were ultimately resolved by consent wholly in the claimant’s favour. The claim was pleaded at in excess of £5m. The judge endorsed the remarks of Henderson J in AB v CD  [2011] EWHC 602  in which he drew the distinction between a genuine offer or ‘merely a lightly disguised request for total capitulation’. A request to a defendant to submit to judgment for the entirety of the relief sought by the claimant was not an ‘offer to settle’ within the meaning of Part 36. An offer to settle had to contain some genuine element of concession on the part of the claimant to which a significant value could be attached in the context of the litigation. Henderson J considered in the context of a road traffic accident that the offer of 95:5 was derisory. In Huck v Robson [2003] 1 WLR 1340 the Court of appeal held that although no judge would apportion liability 95:5, that was irrelevant. The offer reflected the fact that most claimants prefer certainty to the ordeal of trial and uncertainty about its outcome. They did not think it was merely a tactical step to secure the benefit of the incentives provided by the rule but provided the defendant with a real opportunity for settlement. In Jockey Club Racecourse Edwards-Stuart J. found that, although the Part 36 offer of a 95:5 split was not an outcome available to the court, it did not prevent it being a valid offer. Nothing had been changed by the addition to rule 36.17(5) of subparagraph (e) which requires the court to consider whether the offer was a genuine attempt to settle the proceedings. The judge then went on to consider whether it would be unjust to order the consequences which flow from a failure to better a Part 36 offer. He did not order the consequences to flow from 21 days after the date of the offer but allowed the claimant to have costs on the indemnity basis from the earliest date after that by which “the Defendant could reasonably have put itself in a position to make an informed assessment of the strength of the claim on liability”. That conclusion sits uneasily with the comments of the Court of appeal in its harsh decision in Matthews v Metal Improvements Co Inc [2007] C.P. Rep. 27 where the judge was criticised for deciding the case on the basis of reasonableness. The answer to the two questions I posed above is: (1) a Part 36 Offer does not have to reflect an available outcome in the litigation to be valid although this is less likely to be an issue in personal injury where contributory negligence can reduce a finding that a defendant is liable. (2) A genuine attempt to settle liability is one where the offer is not derisory and is one in which there is ‘some genuine element of concession on the part of the claimant, to which a significant value can be attached’. This will depend on the facts of each case although in the context of a personal injury claim an offer of less than a 5% reduction would be risky where the value is not high.

Expert evidence in road traffic cases

Is the evidence of an expert in cycling safety reasonably required in a personal injury claim arising out of an accident which the claimant alleges was caused by the highway authority’s breach of duty (in respect of maintenance, layout etc)? At a Case Management conference in the case of Allen v Cornwall Council [2015] EWHC 1461 the District Judge gave the claimant permission to rely on such evidence to deal with allegations of contributory negligence made by the defendant. He refused to grant the defendant permission to rely on its own evidence.  In the case of Liddell v Middleton (7th July 1995, Unreported), the Court of Appeal gave guidance as to the admissibility of expert evidence in road traffic claims. Stuart-Smith L.J. said that in such cases the function of the expert is to furnish the judge with the necessary scientific criteria and assistance based upon his special skill and experience not possessed by ordinary laymen to enable the judge to interpret the factual evidence of the marks on the road, the damage, or whatever it may be. What he is not entitled to do is reach conclusions on facts or give his opinion on whether there was a breach of duty. In Liddell the Court of Appeal found the ‘expert’ had overstepped the mark and given evidence which was entirely irrelevant and inadmissible. The defendant in Allen appealed the District Judge’s order and the case was heard by Green J. He would not interfere with what was a case management decision of the district judge. Green J found that the district judge was addressing a threshold issue as to whether the evidence should be admitted for the purpose of case management but, he had made it clear it was without prejudice to any more mature and considered view which a trial judge might take. He had not given the defendant permission to have its own report because it might see the expert evidence of the claimant and decide that it wanted to abandon allegations of contributory negligence altogether. Green J held that the district judge had not seen the expert’s report at the time he made his decision and therefore he was not in a position to assess its content; he took account of the fact his decision would not bind the trial judge. Green J thought that the facts of the case were somewhat unusual (as it was not a case of a collision with a pedestrian or another vehicle but one involving the condition and layout of the highway). He did not rule on the admissibility of the evidence but thought the judge had not acted outside the generous ambit afforded to a judge exercising his case management powers. Green J acknowledged the ‘practical force’ of the defendant’s complaint that the judge should have required the report to be prepared and produced before granting permission. Indeed the defendant’s suggestion that this would have been the appropriate course was commended as ‘sensible’. It is notably the course commended by the Court of Appeal in Casey v Cartwright in the context of low velocity road traffic accident litigation. But Green J did not think the judge had erred in not adopting this approach. This case raises an interesting question as to when exactly the threshold is reached for the granting of permission for expert evidence at the case management stage: when is expert evidence ‘reasonably required’ (CPR 35.1)? In Casey the question was whether, once the judge had seen the expert evidence, the issue itself had a ‘real prospect of success’. Liddell v Middleton and the decision in Allen tend to suggest that at the case management stage the question is no more than whether it is arguable that the evidence is admissible - the final decision rests with the trial judge. The questions the expert was to examine included where a cyclist should be positioned on a carriageway and whether he was cycling too fast or should have dismounted where visibility was poor. Do such questions require expert evidence? If so, why not in cases involving motorcycling, lorry driving and other modes of transport which may be outside the experience of a trial judge? It will be interesting to see what the trial judge decides. In the meantime it is striking that, at the appeal, Green J gave the defendant permission to rely on its own expert evidence before it had seen the evidence of the claimant. Draw what conclusions you will… (Ian Miller represented the defendant on the appeal)

Guidance as to Litigants-in-Person, a sign of the times?

The Bar Council, Law Society and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives has produced some joint guidance for lawyers in how to conduct themselves towards a litigant-in-person. The Guide (available at http://bit.ly/1IkTPig) remind practitioners of their professional obligations and that the growing rise in unrepresented parties should be regarded as a sign of the times, rather than a sign of there simply being more vexatious litigation. It recognised that the increase in litigants-in-person may lead to an increased burden of work upon a represented party, ranging from the practical production of bundles, to the degree of procedural assistance such a party ought to offer.   The Guidance suggests (amongst other key points):   You should take care to communicate clearly and to avoid any technical language or legal jargon, or to explain jargon where it cannot be avoided: a LiP who is already feeling at a disadvantage may be further intimidated and antagonised by the use of such language.   You should take extra care to avoid using inflammatory words or phrases that suggest or cause a dispute where there is none, or inflame a dispute, and avoid expressing any personal opinions on the LiP's behaviour…   If you speak to a LiP outside court it is generally wise to do so in the presence of a colleague, if possible. It would be wise in any event to make a note as soon as practicable of any material explanation or assistance which you have given to a LiP.   If you are negotiating a settlement it would be more appropriate to say ‘are you prepared to agree to…’ rather than to say ‘the courts in this situation would never agree to x, so I suggest that you agree to….’. The latter approach might be seen as unfair to the LiP, even if legally accurate.   Where a LiP is a defendant to proceedings and no other pre-action protocol applies, the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) state that you should refer the LiP to the Pre-Action Conduct Practice Direction and draw their attention to paragraph 4 which concerns the court's power to impose sanctions for failure to comply with the Practice Direction. You can inform the LiP that ignoring the letter before claim may lead to the claimant starting proceedings, and may give rise to a liability for costs.   Where a specialist protocol applies and more detailed pre-action procedures are required, a LiP will ultimately be subject to the same obligations as a represented party. You should consider sending a copy of or a web-link to the relevant protocol to a LiP when first contacting them about a claim.   You should communicate in a manner of which the court would approve, which includes treating LiPs with courtesy and in a way that any ordinary person would regard as fair and reasonable. This does not mean that you have to tolerate unacceptable behaviour from a LiP, nor does it mean that a LiP has a right to expect you to respond immediately to their calls or correspondence.   It will be important to explain to your client why you are giving assistance to the opposing party, if this is not made clear in court by the judge. You should emphasise that you have a professional duty to the court and that in the interests of fairness the court may require you to provide procedural assistance to a LiP.

Costs Budgeting: reforms on their way…

Jackson L.J. delivered a speech on costs budgeting on Wednesday. For many of us engaged in CCMCs who encounter inconsistency, courts overwhelmed by the volume of hearings, unnecessary costs incurred and often the thinly disguised frustration of judges with the process, his conclusion that ‘costs management works’, may come as a surprise. His proposals for reform, including fixed costs in some multi-track cases, may not. In his speech he gave 7 benefits of costs management (see below) but he also dealt with objections and problems and made recommendations. I pick out a few: First, he mentioned the costs of the process in low value multi-track cases which he defined as up to ‘about £50,000’. Leeds District Judges recommended fixed costs for such cases and Jackson L.J. endorsed the recommendation for fixed costs in the lower reaches of the multi-track ‘strongly’. Secondly, the issue of judicial inconsistency, unduly long hearings and micro-management he thought should be dealt with by better compulsory judicial training. Thirdly, the problem of the wide variation in the forms of costs management orders he recommended should be dealt with by a standard form of costs management order. Fourthly, he thought that the time for filing and exchanging budgets should be increased so that they are lodged 14 days before the CCMC although there must be a discretion for the court to specify a different period. Fifthly, he was of the view that Precedent H could be improved but he recognised that solicitors had been developing their IT systems for the purpose of completing Precedent H and therefore he did not want to make successive changes. Sixthly, the problem of delays and backlogs of CCMCs he thought should be tackled by repealing PD 3E which says that courts will generally make a costs management order under rule 3.15 where costs budgets are filed and exchanged. The PD should be replaced with a judicial discretion on whether to make a costs management order and criteria to guide its exercise. Seventhly, he acknowledged the backlog of clinical negligence cases in London and suggested that all London Clinical negligence cases with CCMCs listed between October 2014 and January 2016 be released from costs management and called in for short old-style CMCs. He thought a similar solution might be required in Birmingham and Manchester. Eightly, he addressed the issue of incurred costs and the practice of doing as much work before the CCMC in order to shelter costs within the ‘incurred’ column. He did not think that it was appropriate for judges at detailed assessments to treat absence of ‘comment’ on incurred costs as approval. He suggested powers to comment on incurred costs, summarily assess them or set a global figure for any phase to act as an incentive not to put forward excessive incurred costs. In clinical negligence cases he thought that there was a need to introduce pre-action costs management. Ninthly, Jackson L.J. expressed concern about the increase of court fees introduced in March 2015. He thought they should be disregarded when considering whether a party’s costs are proportionate. These are just some of the areas touched upon in Jackson L.J.’s speech which can be read in full by following my hyperlink. He ended his talk by arguing that Costs Management was in the public interest. He thought that lawyers disliked it because it meant more work and required us to develop new skills. He predicted that within the next 10 years costs management would be accepted as an entirely normal discipline and people would wonder what all the fuss was about. For the time being Costs Budgeting is here to stay – but reform is now overwhelmingly likely to occur and we can expect to hear from the Coulson Committee in due course on what form the new rules are likely to take.   The benefits of Costs Management (refered to above) Both parties to litigation know where they stand financially It encourages early settlement It controls costs from an early stage It focuses attention on costs at the outset It stops CMCs from being formulaic leading to debate about what is really required It is fair to give your opposition notice of what you are claiming It prevents losing parties from being destroyed by costs  

A Judgment for What? The Effect of Default Judgments

Where a defendant admits breach of duty but wishes to contest causation, injury and quantum, it has in the past been common practice for it to allow judgment to be entered in default of Acknowledgment of Service or of Defence and to proceed to contest the remaining issues at an assessment of damages hearing.  An alternative course of action, which in the short term is more expensive, is to file a Defence making appropriate admissions and then for the claimant to seek entry of a judgment for damages to be assessed. In Symes v St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust [2014] EWHC 2505 (QB), the claimant was referred to hospital in October 2008 by his GP with a lump on his face which turned out to be a malignant tumour.  In January 2009, a consultant decided that he should have an urgent superficial parotidectomy, but that was not carried out prior to May 2009, when it was found that the tumour had invaded the facial nerve and there had been metastasis to the lungs, leading to the need for a total parotidectomy and the loss of the left facial nerve and inoperable lung cancer.  In 2011, an open admission was made that there had been a breach of duty in failing to identify that the lump was suspicious of malignancy and in the delay in operating, but the defendant’s solicitors made it clear that its view was that the invasion of the facial nerve and the metastasis to the lungs were not attributable to either breach of duty. Proceedings were initially struck out for non-service, but on re-issue, the claimant pleaded his causation case in detail in the Particulars of Claim.  The defendant did not enter an Acknowledgment of Service or a Defence.  Master Roberts entered judgment in default of Acknowledgment of Service and set a date for a directions hearing.  The parties agreed the terms of an order before the hearing and the Master ordered that the parties would have permission to rely on expert evidence on “quantum, condition and prognosis” from experts in oncology and care.  The defendant continued to reiterate in discussions between solicitors that the claimant’s case on quantum was in dispute, save that it was accepted that there was a liability to pay damages for pain and suffering during the delay in treatment.  However, it was not until the claimant sought an interim payment of £50,000 that his advisers expressly asserted that the default judgment precluded the defendant from contesting the pleaded allegations of causation.  Whether or not the claimant was entitled to that interim payment depended largely on whether the claimant was correct as to the effect of the default judgment. At first instance, in a judgment given on March 21st 2014, the Master upheld the claimant’s contention.  He ruled that the Particulars of Claim stood as a template for the default judgment and that the defendant accordingly could not contest causation.  He castigated the defendant for having acted in a manner contrary to the overriding objective and having failed to comply with the obligation in CPR 16.5 to respond properly to the Particulars of Claim by serving a Defence. On appeal, Simon Picken QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, allowed the appeal.  In his judgment, the deputy judge reviewed the case law in some detail.  In particular, he closely examined the leading case on the subject, Lunnun v Singh [1999] CPLR 587, which had followed an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal refusing permission to appeal in Turner v Toleman [1999] unreported, January 15th.  The judge held at [62]-[63] that he was bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal in Lunnun to conclude that the default judgment established no more than that the defendant was in breach of duty and that the breach had caused some damage.  There was no special rule applicable to clinical negligence cases: at [64].  Lunnun remained good law following the introduction of the CPR: at [65].  He also said that as a matter of principle that since the defendant admitted part of the claimant’s pleaded case on causation (that the delay in treatment led to pain and suffering) there was no basis to construe the default judgment as extending to the other consequences which were said to follow from the breaches of duty: at [66]-[68]. The deputy judge then went on to consider whether the defendant had acted contrary to the CPR.  The rules did not state that the effect of a default judgment for damages to be assessed precluded a claimant from contesting a pleaded case as to causation: at [83].  It followed from the decision as to the effect of the default judgment that the defendant had been entitled not to serve a Defence and so there was no breach of CPR 16.5: at [84]-[85].  Accordingly, while it “would have been more sensible” for the defendant to serve a Defence, it was not in breach of the rules for failing to do so: at [86]-[87].  Nor was the defendant in breach of the overriding objective, since it had made its position clear in correspondence to the claimant’s advisers, if not to the court: at [89]-[91].  The claimant’s advisers accepted that they had known that the defendant’s solicitors were under what they regarded as a misapprehension.  In those circumstances, both parties should have brought the misunderstanding before the court at an earlier stage: at [92].  In Parkhouse v North Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, at a hearing on May 6th 2014, this course had been taken where default judgment had been entered but at a directions hearing, the defendant had made it clear that causation was in dispute.  Master Roberts himself denied that there was any need for the directions order to make clear that it was open to the defendant to contest causation, although in the event a recital was inserted to that effect. The extent to which, in clinical negligence cases, the practice of allowing default judgment to be entered in this way is followed is not clear.  Anecdotally, it appears that both courses of action are utilised by defendant’s solicitors.  Even though the practice has been legitimised (subject to any further appeal to the Court of Appeal) by the decision in Symes, nevertheless the modest cost savings in not serving a Defence in a case where there is a clearly pleaded case in causation are surely outweighed by the need to ensure that both parties are absolutely clear about the extent to which the critical issue of causation is being contested.

Exit Mitchell enter Denton

Our jurisdiction generally does not favour laws (whether judge- or parliament-made) which fail to take account of what is just in the individual circumstances of the particular case. The common law prides itself in being able to adapt to new situations to yield what we would generally understand to be the ‘right’ result. This is a priority of our legal system and Mitchell fell foul of it – whether because it overstepped the mark in the first place or whether because it was wrongly interpreted. It is a strength of our system that it has been able to correct itself within such a short space of time. Exit Mitchell and enter Denton (or perhaps it will become known as ‘Decadent’). The Court of Appeal explains that when approaching rule 3.9 the first stage is to identify and assess the seriousness and significance of the ‘failure to comply with any rule, practice direction or court order’. If the breach is neither significant nor serious then there is no need to spend much time on the second and third stages. The second stage is to consider why the default occurred. The third stage is to evaluate ‘all the circumstances of the case, so as to enable [the court] to deal justly with the application including [factors (a) and (b)]’. The assessment of ‘seriousness and significance’ is substituted for the ‘triviality’ test. The Law Society had contended for a test of ‘immateriality’. The Court of Appeal was content with this as long as it involved not just a question of whether trial dates were affected but also the effect on litigation generally. Because this test did not take account of breaches which were serious but did not affect the efficient progress of the litigation, the Court preferred to stick to whether or not the breach was ‘serious or significant’. At this stage unrelated past failures should not be taken into account. The second stage is to consider why the default occurred. The examples in Mitchell are to be considered as no more than examples. When it comes to the third stage, if there is a serious or significant breach and there is no good reason for it the application will not automatically fail but the court will consider ‘all the circumstances of the case, so as to enable it to deal justly with the application’. The Court of Appeal rowed back from the epithet ‘paramount importance’ which had been attached to the only two factors expressly referred to in rule 3.9. They are now of ‘particular importance’ and should be given particular weight when all the circumstances of the case are considered. The Court of Appeal is on a tight rope. Its aim is evidently to avoid relaxation which 'will inevitably lead to the court[s] slipping back to the old culture of non-compliance which the Jackson reforms were designed to eliminate.' Equally it wants to put an end to the plethora of decisions which have come from some judges which are 'manifestly unjust and disproportionate'. Whether Denton will achieve that remains to be seen.

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.                

Rule 3.10: looking beyond 3.9 for relief

The dreaded realisation that you have not complied with a rule or practice direction. Your life flashes past you and a cold sweat breaks out. Out comes rule 3.9 and the new criteria, Mitchell, a call to the insurers… Or perhaps r. 3.10 applies? “Where there has been an error of procedure such as a failure to comply with a rule or practice direction- (a) The error does not invalidate any step taken in proceedings unless the court so orders…” There are some nuggets to be found in the recent case of Integral Petroleum v SCU-Finanz AG [2014] EWHC 702 (Comm) in which the scope of r.3.10 was explored by Popplewell J. In Integral the parties agreed an extension of time by e-mail for the service of the Particulars of Claim by 28 days to 6th June (in fact 28 days would have given until 10th June). The Particulars were served by e-mail at 18.41 on 10th June meaning they were deemed served out of time. SCU challenged validity of service on the grounds that e-mail was not a permitted method of serving and, in any event, service was late. No Defence was filed and Integral obtained judgment in default. Under r.6.20 e-mail may only be used to serve documents other than the claim form where a party has indicated that he or she is willing to be served by e-mail. SCU had not given such an indication. The judge found that the error of procedure in serving the Particulars of Claim by e-mail was a failure to comply with a rule or practice direction which fell within r. 3.10. Accordingly under r. 3.10(a) such service was a step which was to be treated as valid: He considered that the rule was to be construed as of wide effect so as to be available to be used beneficially wherever the defect has had no prejudicial effect on the other party. The method of service was recognised but the formalities necessary to make it a permitted method had not been concluded.  He drew a distinction between service of the originating process and service of Particulars of Claim and thought a narrower approach to r. 3.10 should be taken when dealing with the originating process. r. 3.10 was particularly apposite for treating as valid a step whose whole function was to bring a document to the attention of the opposing party where such function has been fulfilled - he said “It prevents a triumph of form over substance”. The judge also found that the rule applied in relation to service of the Particulars of Claim 5 days out of time. The upshot of all of this was that Integral could not set aside judgment as of right but the judge did set it aside under r. 13.3. Rule 3.10 is one to bear in mind when you next find yourself having a scrape with deadlines, procedural formalities etc. In the light of Mitchell the caselaw on this rule is likely to expand greatly.