Rules are rules – Civil Courts cracking down on non-compliance


Article written by Anna Crayton, Dispute Resolution lawyer

Prior to the Jackson Reforms in April 2013 it was considered that the UK Courts had become too tolerant of parties’ non-compliance with the Civil Procedure Rules, Practice Directions and the Court’s directions and orders and the delays that this non-compliance caused.

Immediately post-implementation of the Jackson Reforms, despite amendments to the rules to encourage a stricter approach, the reality, in practice, was that Judges were being inconsistent in their application of the new and, supposedly, more stringent tests.

In an attempt to level the playing field and to assist judges when giving Judgment on applications for relief from sanction, the Court of Appeal laid down guidance regarding application of the rule in the case of Mitchell [2013] EWCA 1537 and later reinstated and clarified the approach that should be applied in future cases in Denton [2014] EWCA Civ 906.

The current position following Denton requires the Court to:

  • Identify and assess the seriousness of the non-compliance. Is the breach “serious or significant? – Stage 1
  • If it is, why did the default occur? – Stage 2
  • Consider all the circumstances of the case in order to deal with the application “justly”, including (a) the need for litigation to be conducted efficiently and at proportionate cost and (b) the need to enforce compliance with rules, directions and court orders – Stage 3

Whilst discretion remains a Judge’s prerogative it appears that post-Denton, a tougher approach to procedural non-compliance has become ingrained and the Courts appear to be unreservedly enforcing the rules.

In a recent application for relief from sanctions hearing at the Brighton County Court, at which this firm represented the Defendant, the Judge took a no-nonsense approach to a Claimant’s persistent and flagrant overall disregard to the Civil Procedure Rules and Court orders that amounted to several breaches causing significant procedural consequences and the derailing of the trial date.

The Defendant opposed the Claimant’s application on the basis that the running of the case was significantly disrupted by the Claimant’s dilatory approach and argued that the non-compliance in failing to pay the trial fee was serious and prejudicial. The Judge concurred, dismissing the Claimant’s request for relief from sanction and ruling that the Claimant’s claim remain struck out.

Accordingly all parties, in particular claimants and litigants in person need to take note: follow the Court’s rules, directions and orders or you could find yourself automatically sanctioned; liable for the other side’s costs; and, most critically, your claim could be struck out in its entirety!

Help and advice

If you require guidance or advice regarding civil court procedures or a civil dispute please contact Anna Crayton, a solicitor in our Dispute Resolution Department:

T: 020 7408 8888     E: [email protected]