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Parties that fail to comply with court rules will be likely to face 'severe sanctions', says judge

Courts are taking an increasingly tough stance on non-compliance with the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), an expert has said, following comments by a High Court judge that parties that do not comply with court rules and practice directions will be likely to face "severe sanctions".

Litigation expert Ben Fairhead of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the consistent application of this stricter approach would ultimately be "good for litigants" and lead to more certainty during court proceedings.

"Less than two months after implementation of the Jackson reforms, the message from the courts is now coming through loud and clear: a much tougher stance will be taken on non-compliance with rules and directions," he said. "Any previous scope for allowing slippage looks to be becoming increasingly a thing of the past."

"Ultimately, if this strict approach is applied consistently across the board, this can only be good for litigants. Claimants and defendants alike want certainty and clarity in their court proceedings as well as a system that is as slick and cost-effective as possible - objectives that will be more readily achievable if orders are adhered to," he said.

The CPR sets out a number of rules and practice directions which govern how civil court cases should be conducted. The 60th and 61st updates to the CPR, which took effect from 1 April, introduced a number of substantial changes including a stronger overriding objective to enable judges to deal with cases "justly and at proportionate cost".

In his recent ruling, Judge Pelling QC said that since these updates mean that since April 1, a failure to comply with a rule, direction or order was in itself a "clear breach of the overriding objective" which would likely result in "severe sanctions".

"All parties and the wider litigation world should be aware that all courts at all levels are now required to take a very much stricter view of the failure by parties to comply with directions, particularly where the failure to comply is likely to lead into a waste of the limited resources made available to those with cases to litigate," he said.

The parties in the case in question had received at least two case management orders from district judges involving the filing of witness statements. In October 2011, an order  had been made that statements should be exchanged no later than 13 weeks after the date on which the party bringing the claim had provided security for costs. A second order, given on 26 November 2012, provided that the statements had to be served on all parties to the action by 6 April 2013. Neither of these orders  was complied with.

Judge Pelling said that he had "come very close to refusing" an extension of the time limits due to the parties' failure to comply with the previous orders. Of particular relevance was the fact that the case had been allocated five-day trial, despite the fact that this amount of time was no longer needed. If the witness statements had been served as they should have been, this would have been obvious earlier and could have been changed without wasting court time, he said.

"In the end I am only persuaded to extend the time for the filing of witness statements because this hearing is taking place only a very short while after the amendment of the CPR and because the period that has elapsed since the final extension expired is relatively short," he said.

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