Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeMaster of the Rolls
Judgment Date27 November 2013
Neutral Citation[2013] EWCA Civ 1537
Docket NumberCase No: A2/2013/2462
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Date27 November 2013
Andrew Mitchell MP
News Group Newspapers Limited

[2013] EWCA Civ 1537


Master of The Rolls

Lord Justice Richards


Lord Justice Elias

Case No: A2/2013/2462





Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Simon Browne QC and Richard Wilkinson (instructed by Atkins Thomson Solicitors) for the Appellant

Nicholas Bacon QC and Roger Mallalieu (instructed by Simons Muirhead and Burton Solicitors) for the Respondent

Master of the Rolls

this is the judgment of the court.


This is an appeal from two decisions of Master McCloud in relation to the recently introduced rules for costs budgeting in civil litigation. The first was her decision of 18 June 2013 that, because the appellant had failed to file his costs budget in time, he was to be treated as having filed a costs budget comprising only the applicable court fees. The costs budget actually filed by his solicitors was in the sum of £506,425. The second decision was her refusal on 25 July to grant relief under CPR 3.9 from her first decision. This is the first time that the Court of Appeal has been called upon to decide on the correct approach to the revised version of CPR 3.9 which came into force on 1 April 2013 to give effect to the reforms recommended by Sir Rupert Jackson. The question at the heart of the appeal is: how strictly should the courts now enforce compliance with rules, practice directions and court orders? The traditional approach of our civil courts on the whole was to excuse non-compliance if any prejudice caused to the other party could be remedied (usually by an appropriate order for costs). The Woolf reforms attempted to encourage the courts to adopt a less indulgent approach. In his Review of Civil Litigation Costs, Sir Rupert concluded that a still tougher and less forgiving approach was required. His recommendations were incorporated into the Civil Procedure Rules.

The procedural history


On 21 September 2012, the Sun Newspaper reported that the claimant, then the Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, had raged against police officers at the entrance to Downing Street in a foul mouthed rant shouting "you're f…ing plebs". The incident, which received wide coverage, has since become known as "plebgate".


On 7 March 2013, he issued these proceedings alleging defamation. A defence was filed on 17 May pleading justification and a Reynolds defence, i.e. that the story was one of strong public interest which had been reported responsibly.


It is common ground that CPR PD51D Defamation Proceedings Costs Management Scheme applied to the proceedings. This was a pilot scheme which was in force until 31 March 2013. Para 4 of the practice direction provided:

"4.1 During the preparation of costs budgets the parties should discuss the assumptions and the timetable upon which their respective costs budgets are based.

4.2 The parties must exchange and lodge with the court their costs budgets in the form of Precedent HA not less than 7 days before the date of the hearing for which the costs budgets are required."


On 5 June 2013, the court issued an order (which was delivered to the claimant's solicitors on 6 June) that there would be a case management and costs budget hearing on Monday 10 June. As a result of the late notification of the date to the parties, the hearing was relisted for 18 June. The defendant used outside costs lawyers to prepare its costs budget which it filed on 11 June. Its budget figure was £589,558. The claimant's solicitors prepared their costs budget in-house. At 12.14 pm on 17 June, Master McCloud sent an email to the parties' solicitors noting that there was no budget from the claimant on the court file and asking whether the parties' budgets were agreed. The defendant's solicitor replied at 12.27 pm the same day saying: "… despite a number of written promptings from me to exchange costs budgets the Claimant's solicitors have not replied or provided us with a copy of their Costs Budget". At 12.44 pm, the claimant's solicitors emailed the Master saying:

"Apologies, we have yet to be able to finalise the Claimant's Precedent H budget as we have been delayed in receiving Counsel's figures despite chasing for these daily since the middle of last week. We aim to file the document in the next two hours and exchange with the Defendant."


In the event, the claimant's solicitors filed their budget during the afternoon of 17 June.


The parties attended before the Master on 18 June. The claimant was represented by counsel and the defendant by its solicitor. The defendant's solicitor said that there had not been sufficient time to consider the claimant's budget. The Master had to decide what to do in view of the fact that the claimant's costs budget had not been lodged with the court at least 7 days before 18 June. She was told by the claimant's counsel on instructions that the reason why the budget had not been filed until the previous day was "to do with pressure of litigation elsewhere in the firm on another case". She noted that this explanation was at odds with what she had been told in the email. At para 9 of her judgment, she said:

"So what we have here is a position where a defendant has attempted to comply with the rules and has produced a budget and has engaged with the process and the claimant has not produced a budget and has not engaged until the very last minute in response to prompting from myself dealing with the costs management in the afternoon of the day before. On any basis that is a breach of the Practice Direction 51D and of the overriding objective in my judgment."


She said that there were "really no adequate excuses for this breach" (para 12). There needed to be a case plan agreed if possible by the parties as to how the litigation would proceed and how it would be costed throughout. She then said: "… that process has simply died in this case. It has simply failed notwithstanding the defendant's compliance, and attempts by it to engage the claimant in budget discussion and exchange" (para 14). She continued:

"15. The new rules have provisions in them which are essentially in identical terms to the rules under which I am proceeding today with one exception and that is the new rules provide a mandatory sanction and that is that where a party fails to file a cost budget within seven days prior to the date of the first hearing, the party is deemed to have filed a budget which is limited to court fees. I must act proportionately but I must also manage cases in accordance with the new overriding objective.

16. What I consider to be the best guide to as to what is considered proportionate (subject to the power to grant relief from sanctions) is what the Rules Committee has decided it should be in the new rules given that the circumstances of the breach in this case are identical to that envisaged in the new rules and the wording of the requirement to file a budget no less than seven days before a hearing and the requirement to discuss assumptions and so on is also practically identical.

17. All that is missing in Practice Direction 51D is a stipulation as to the nature of any sanction. It is simply left at large to the court, but I consider that professionals have now had ample warning for many months that the court would adopt a strict approach to the interpretation of application and rules and orders and it should come as no surprise that, subject to any powers I have to grant relief from sanctions, the sanction I should impose is that the claimant's budget will be limited to the court fees. The claimant has the right to apply for relief from sanctions and I will adjourn the costs budgeting hearing, and matters can resume either to deal with any applications supported by evidence or to deal with costs budgeting, or both as appropriate in due course.


Accordingly, she made an order in the following terms:

"1. The Claimant shall be treated as having filed a budget comprising only the applicable court fees.

2. The Claimant shall be entitled to apply for relief from sanctions, the hearing of the application to be heard at 2 pm on 25 July 2013, alongside the adjourned Case management and Cost Budget Hearing…."


As the Master subsequently explained, in imposing this sanction, she had regard to the new CPR 3.14 by analogy (although it was not applicable to this case) because it was "an indication as to what may be an appropriate sanction for breach of the requirement to lodge a budget no later than 7 days before a case management conference" (para 2 of her judgment of 25 July).

Judgment of 25 July


On 25 July, the Master heard the claimant's application for relief from the sanction imposed on 18 June that he should be treated as having filed a budget comprising only the applicable court fees. It was submitted on behalf of the claimant that she had been wrong to apply CPR 3.14 even if only by analogy. Reliance was placed on the decision in F and C Alternative Investments Ltd (No 3) [2012] EWCA Civ 843, [2013] 1 WLR 548. But the Master distinguished that authority. She said that she was entitled to look at CPR 3.14 as a guide to what may be regarded as a "proportionate sanction in a closely analogous situation of a failure to file a budget on time" (para 19). In any event, she said that she was not satisfied that she was entitled to review the correctness of her original decision (para 23).


She then turned to the claimant's application for relief from the sanction. At paras 25 to 64 of her impressive judgment,...

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