The Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) have been subjected to a variety of changes recently in order to foster a more co-operative approach to resolving disagreements between litigating parties.
CPR 3.8 has been amended effective from 5 June 2014 such that parties are able to agree extensions of a deadline of up to 28 days without application to court, provided such an agreement does not affect hearing dates.
The rule change is the latest example of the court system being tweaked to encourage co-operation between parties so as to facilitate more proportionate costs.
What Changes Have Actually been Made to the Civil Procedure Rules?
The Civil Procedure Rule Committee invoked its power under Section 2 of the Civil Procedure Act 1997, to make the changes to CPR 3.8.
From 5 June the time for doing an act prescribed by a rule, practice direction or court order, “may be extended by prior written agreement of the parties for up to a maximum of 28 days, provided always that any such extension does not put at risk any hearing date.”
What Precipitated the Changes?
Lord Justice Jackson, in a paper for the Civil Justice conference 21 March 2014, made clear that parties “should be able to agree sensible variations of time limits which do not disrupt the litigation timetable”. Lord Justice Jackson had previously led a review into civil litigation costs in 2009 the findings of which resulted in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
The changes have been made in reaction to the current landscape of legal procedure, following the landmark decision in Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd . In Mitchell it was held that a failure to serve a costs budget in compliance with CPR 3.13 limited the claimant to recovery of his court fees only. The decision made clear that where a party fails to comply with a rule, direction or order, no relief from sanctions will be granted unless there are very compelling reasons for doing so.
As such, speculative applications to strike out claims or defences for what some may see as trivial breaches of court procedure have become commonplace in civil litigation. The rule change will lead to an expectation that parties will be able to agree sensible extensions which avoid unnecessary application to Court, following the likelihood that any refusal to agree to a valid extension will be met with an adverse costs order.
Importantly, the rule change further demarcates the distinction between what are seen by the court as ‘immutable’ dates, e.g. hearing dates, and what may be seen as a more flexible or merely target dates. Without an application to Court, only the latter may be extended by parties to a case.