The Government’s move to allow parties to agree short extensions to court timetables between themselves is a welcome injection of common sense and could encourage more early dispute resolution, according to Craig Wallace, a partner at Shakespeares.
The amendment to the Civil Procedure Rules, which takes effect on 5 June, will permit parties to agree an extension to the deadlines set by the court – by up to four weeks – as part of its case management. They are permitted to do this by agreeing to the extension between themselves without having to apply to the court.
Any agreement has to be made in writing and to avoid any risk that it is not legally-binding it should be acknowledged formally by both parties.
In the wake of Mitchell the courts have been inundated with applications for time extensions or for relief of sanctions. It is hoped that once the effect of the changes starts to filter through it will reduce the court’s workload significantly.
In practical terms, said Wallace, this legal amendment will also help to ease the nerves in both the claimant and defendant camps.
"At a time of heightened concern about costs and sanctions this amendment will be welcomed by all concerned,not least insurance companies who have seen both defence and claimant costs increase significantly since the Jackson reforms took effect in April 2013," said Wallace.
"This amendment will go some way towards reducing costs, in particular the scale of interim applications.
"At a time when many insurance companies and litigators are starting to doubt that the Jackson reforms will ever deliver any of their intended benefits in terms of boosting efficiency and reducing litigation costs, this amendment is a significant development."
Wallace added that the ongoing concern about Jackon's legacy of spiralling costs and sanctions was leading to a closer focus on on early dispute resolution.
"Historically, with particular regard to personal injuries claims, there has been little appetite or willingness to attempt any form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before proceedings," he said.
"However, this is about to change as the parties involved will have the option to take an extra window of time in which to agree settlement terms without being penalised for breaching pre-set deadlines. This new flexibility could be just the incentive needed to encourage early dispute resolution."