Posted by Nicola Radcliffe, Senior Associate
Lawyers beware – ‘plebgate’ and the impact on solicitors
Andrew Mitchell’s ‘plebgate’ defamation claim against the Sun newspaper hits the headlines again and serves as a stark warning for all solicitors about the court’s approach to procedural failures.
Following extensive changes in April 2013 to the way claims are managed and funded in England and Wales the courts have expressed a clear zero tolerance attitude to solicitors’ failures when it comes to complying with court orders.
The team from Withy King often hear from individuals and businesses whose litigation has been mishandled by their solicitors and as a result have lost trust and confidence in their abilities, or worse, lost them the claim. What is now even more concerning is the court’s clear message that they will simply not tolerate solicitors’ failures to comply with court orders.
Recent changes to the way costs are managed mean that solicitors are required to prepare ‘budgets’, giving the court up-front estimates for how much they expect each stage of the litigation to cost.
In the recent ‘plebgate’ case the Judge ruled that Mitchell’s solicitor should not be excused for failing to file their budget in time. The decision means that even if Mitchell wins his case he will have to pay all of his own legal costs, which are likely to exceed £500,000.
His solicitors appealed the decision giving reasons for their delay including the fact that they were a small firm, two of their trainee solicitors were on maternity leave and the only other person qualified to prepare the budget was busy with other work. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision, saying that they would only be prepared to forgive the solicitor’s failures in exceptional circumstances, such as suffering from a debilitating illness or being involved in an accident.
Mitchell will undoubtedly be looking to sue his solicitors for Professional Negligence and his case acts as a stark warning for all lawyers about the court’s approach to such failures going forward.
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