Media & Entertainment Law: Andrew Mitchell MP v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2013] EWCA Civ 1537 Lord Dyson (MR), Lord Justice Richards and Lord Justice Elias

C, the ex-Tory Chief Whip, engulfed in the so-called ‘Plebgate’ scandal, brought a libel claim against the publishers of The Sun newspaper in which the article appeared alleging that during the course of the now-famous altercation with police at the gates of no. 10 Downing St, he had called the policemen “f***ing plebs”.

This hearing concerned an appeal from a decision of Master McCloud who refused an appeal under CPR 3.9 against an earlier decision of hers that C could not recover the costs incurred in his case, post the first CMC, amounting to £506,425. This was because his solicitors had failed to submit a costs budget on time, in accordance with the new costs budgeting rules. The budget, which should have been submitted 7 days in advance of the CMC, was not filed until the afternoon before the day of the hearing. C’s solicitors initially claimed that the delay was due to an inability to obtain Counsel’s figures despite chasing them (although at a later hearing dealing with the application for relief from the Order that Master McCloud had made, she was told it was due to pressures elsewhere in the firm, which had been very busy at the time). The late submission of the costs budget resulted in the hearing having to be adjourned and rescheduled.

C appealed against the Master’s refusal to grant relief against her original Order to the Court of Appeal, but was unsuccessful. The CA held that his solicitors had been in breach of CPR PD 51D and in light of the new approach mandated by the Jackson costs reforms, the case for granting relief from the CPR 3.14 sanction had not been made out. The Court made clear that the level of ‘busyness’ of the solicitors’ firm concerned will rarely be a good reason to explain a failure to meet deadlines, and solicitors simply should not take on more work then they are capable of properly handling. As a result Master McCloud’s decision would stand, and C was limited to the recovery of only his pre-CMC costs and court fees, the latter being up to £2,000.