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Informal extensions of time can be agreed in English civil courts from next month

Parties to civil litigation in England and Wales will be able to agree to extensions of time of up to 28 days between themselves without seeking permission from the court when the latest version of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) comes into force next month.

The so-called 'buffer direction' is intended to reduce the "disproportionate burden" placed on court resources by parties submitting formal applications to the court for short, undisputed extensions of time, according to guidance notes accompanying the latest version of the CPR. The updated rules will come into force on 5 June, according to a statutory instrument which was laid before parliament this week.

In April 2013, as part of a major update to the CPRs following Lord Justice Jackson's review of civil court procedure and funding, a new element to the 'overriding objective' was introduced. Courts are now required to deal with cases "at proportionate cost" as well as justly, and have stronger powers to enforce compliance with rules, practice directions and orders.

The Court of Appeal gave guidance on how strictly the new rules should be interpreted, and what constituted a 'trivial' breach for which courts should grant relief from sanctions at the end of last year, when it upheld costs sanctions against the MP Andrew Mitchell. Strict compliance with the rules by parties and their lawyers following this decision is now having "implications for listed trials which may be delayed" while applications for extensions of time are determined, according to the guidance note.

The new version of the CPR will allow parties to agree in writing to extend a specified time period for compliance by up to a maximum of 28 days, provided that any hearing date is "not put at risk" as a result. The change will apply to provisions set out in the CPR and accompanying practice directions and court orders that require a party to do something within a specified time period, unless the court has previously ordered that an extension of time cannot be agreed without the consent of the court.

The statutory instrument also rectified an omission from the rules setting up a new, dedicated Planning Court. Once in force, it will give the President of the Queen's Bench Division responsibility for the nomination of specialist planning judges to deal with "significant" Planning Court claims, as defined by practice direction 54E.

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