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Plebgate MPs Legal Costs Dilemma Is Warning To Others

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Claimants planning to go through the courts must heed the cautionary tale of former chief whip Andrew Mitchell MP’s legal costs, a Midland lawyer has said.

Commenting on the back of Mr Mitchell’s recent court battle, litigation specialist Sam Pedley has warned that recent changes to the rules governing legal costs could leave people out of pocket even if they win their case.

Sutton Coldfield MP Mr Mitchell recently lost an appeal in his libel action against The Sun newspaper, which will now not have to pay his legal fees, whether he wins or loses. It comes after his lawyers failed to file his costs budget with the Court on time and means he can now only claim back the court fees rather than the submitted legal costs of £506,425.

Mr Pedley, an associate solicitor at West Midlands-based mfg Solicitors, said: “The result in Mr Mitchell’s high profile case has primarily happened because of changes that came into effect in April. It seems something of a cruel irony that a former minister within the same Government that has overseen these changes has become the first to lose out from them in the Court of Appeal.

“The changes are known as the Jackson Reforms because they have been imposed by Lord Justice Jackson. They were brought in to cap the amounts payable under ‘no win no fee’ deals with lawyers and require them to calculate what they will be charging in legal costs and to notify the court of them within the allotted time. Andrew Mitchell’s legal team failed to do so and had the costs capped at court fees only. Now he has lost an appeal against that decision.”

Mr Mitchell is still pursuing a case against The Sun, which will be coming to court, over the ‘plebgate’ affair, in which he was accused of calling the Downing Street police officers plebs because they would not open the gates for his bicycle. He has repeatedly denied using the words attributed to him by The Sun.

Mr Pedley continued: “Andrew Mitchell will now not be able to get his costs back even if he wins and the Court of Appeal has sent a clear message that non-compliance will not be tolerated.

“The ruling may appear harsh, but it is a clear attempt to change the culture of legal teams meeting deadlines. It makes things more efficient which is better for everyone. But ‘well intentioned incompetence’ is no excuse.

“The consequence cannot be overstated. Parties who anticipate missing deadlines have to apply for an extension before the deadline passes. Mistakes are not accepted as part of the significant shift in how litigation is carried out now and in the future.”

Mr Pedley and colleague Tom Esler are providing advice on the Jackson Reforms to businesses across the region. For further information or to make an appointment