Simon Stanfield – MASS Vice Chair/Partner and Head of Motor PI, colemans-ctts LLP looks back on ‘the madness that was Mitchell’ and makes some predictions for 2015
Litigators throughout the country will not be able to forget the Judgment in Mitchell which was handed down on the 27th November 2013. This draconian decision led to countless sleepless nights for all over Christmas 2013 and the first few months of 2014. It appeared that innocuous and inadvertent errors could result in claims either being struck out or vital evidence not being admissible. We had times of procedure before justice.
The strategies of firms subsequently changed, business plans amended, supervision was taken to a whole new level and staff were reluctant to take annual leave.
We all heard horror stories and blood baths in court to which we all in the main had obvious sympathy for those concerned. Tales of opportunistic defence counsel taking points on the day of trial, witness evidence being struck out being a day or so late and served many months previously, trial bundles a day late (but still in plenty of time of the trial and the judge not even reading them in any event) with the result being the case being struck out. There was chaos and this all came at a time when there was monumental change to our industry which included the slashing of costs.
The Master of the Rolls had stated that he remained “fairly unrepentant about what we said in the ruling”. He did however agree that some decisions were ridiculous. Ridiculous! In the main they were quite simply beyond ridiculous!
It is therefore wholly unsurprising that when the Civil Court Statistics were released this month it showed that from April to June 2014 the number of claims issued had decreased by a staggering 13%. As we all know some fee earners were simply just too frightened to issue court proceedings.
The most interesting key points to be noted from the statistics released this month are:
• the number of claims decreased by 13%
• approximately 3% of claims proceed to trial
• there is an average of 54 weeks between a claim being issued and the claim going to trial
• 10-12% of cases are defended.
Thankfully, common sense finally prevailed. CPR 3.8 and Denton et al brought us to a sensible situation whereby we can litigate, sleep at night and also now provides a situation where the courts are no longer clogged up being inundated with applications for relief from sanctions. The taking of highly technical points now puts the applicant in as much at risk as the respondent.
Looking back I am sure that you will all agree that the first 6 months of 2014 was mayhem and a difficult time for litigators. Going forward my predictions for 2015 are:
• the number of claims issued will increase
• the law relating to sanctions will continue to be litigated upon although not as extensively
• there will be fresh battles as to Proportionality, costs and costs budgeting.