Some four months have now passed since the landmark decision of Denton v White and other appeals  EWCA Civ 906. However, these two cases show that the Courts and litigants continue to grapple with its effect.
The Lord Chancellor v Former Partnership of Taylor Wilcocks Solicitors & Others  EWHC 3664 (QB)
In this case the High Court recently dismissed an appeal against a refusal to grant an extension of time for service of particulars of claim. At first instance, the Master considered the case of Mitchell v MGN  EWCA Civ 1537 and held that the provisions of CPR 3.9 were of “paramount” importance and there was now a requirement for litigation to be conducted efficiently, which in this case meant “getting on with it…particularly if you are at the end of, or beyond the end of, the limitation period”. The Master held there was no good reason for a delay which was not trivial. Therefore relief from sanction was refused. On appeal, it was to be decided if the case of Denton had changed anything of significance and whether there was any real effect on the approach taken by the Master at first instance.
The Claimant argued that the Master had not taken the full circumstances of the case into account in deciding to refuse relief, particularly the fact that there had been an ongoing history of agreeing extensions of time. The Defendant’s argued the Master’s approach was correct and did not require fresh consideration under Denton, but even if it did the result would be the same. The High Court held that it was apparent the Master correctly conducted the three-stage test approach recommended in Denton. The Mitchell approach was applied correctly and stood up even when compared against Denton. The High Court held it was for them to consider the appeal in accordance with appeal principles and not to rehear and make an independent first instance decision.
Gretton v Santander UK Plc  Ew Misc B52 (CC)
In this case the Claimant applied for Relief from Sanction for failure to file and serve a Statement of Costs in relation to detailed assessment proceedings. Taking into account all previous breaches, the Court held that the breach on this occasion was significant and “worthy of attention or noteworthy in some way”. The Claimant had acted in “flagrant disregard” of Court deadlines. The Master held “the parties need to act proportionately; they need to save expense and they need to comply with court orders”. Accordingly, relief was refused.
These two cases show that Mitchell and Denton continue to be litigated and the overall message continues to be that compliance with rules and adherence to deadlines is one of the main objectives of the Jackson reforms. The case of The Lord Chancellor is a reminder that an appeal court will not easily overturn a first instance decision decided under Mitchell if its application has been correctly approached. However, Gretton may provide some comfort to litigants and shows that if there are suitable grounds to oppose relief, the costs sanctions mentioned in Denton for unreasonably opposing relief will not apply.
For further information, please contact Georgina Squire or the Partner with whom you usually deal.