Former Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell has had a key costs ruling go against him in his libel battle with The Sun over its reporting of the Plebgate incident.
The ruling means that even if he wins, The Sun will not have to pay his legal fees.
Mitchell’s legal team had sought court approval of a £506,425 budget but because this paperwork had been filed late the application was rejected.
The Conservative MP lodged his initial claim for £150,000 damages on 7 March 2013 alleging defamation. News UK filed its reply on 17 May pleading justification and a Reynolds public interest defence.
Initially, the court issued an order on 5 June that a case management and costs hearing would take place on 10 June, however this was relisted for 18 June because it did not give both parties sufficient time to lodge the correct paperwork.
Mitchell is funding the action via a no win, no fee Conditional Fee Agreement with his legal team. His lawyers have made clear that Mitchell will not have to pay the costs himself.
Under new rules introduced to speed up civil litigation, details of costs from both sides have to be filed with the court at least seven days before the first case management hearing. However, Mitchell’s legal team only filed the proposed £506,425 costs application on 17 June – less than 24 hours before the hearing. News UK had filed its planned £589,558 budget figure for defending the case on 11 June – within the seven-day deadline.
As a result, Master McCloud of the High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division ruled that Mitchell would only be entitled to the court costs of £1,350.
Mitchell appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal in a bid to secure his costs for the planned legal action.
In a judgment handed down this morning Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson ruled: “The defaults by the claimant’s solicitors were not minor or trivial and there was no good excuse for them. They resulted in an abortive costs budgeting hearing and an adjournment which had serious consequences for other litigants. It seems harsh in the individual case of Mr Mitchell’s claim, if we were to overturn the decision to refuse relief, it is inevitable that the attempt to achieve a chance in culture would receive a major setback.
“In the result, we hope that our decision will send out a clear message. If it does, we are confident that, in time, legal representatives will become more efficient and will routinely comply with rules, practice directions and orders. If this happens, then we would expect that satellite litigation of this kind, which is so expensive and damaging to the civil justice system, will become a thing of the past.”
Depending on the terms of his no win, no fee deal it may be that Mitchell's lawyers will now have to pick up their own costs.
News UK said this morning: “The Sun will be defending Mr Mitchell's libel action on the basis that our original story was true and published in the public interest.”
Mitchell today confirmed he will be continuing his action against News UK however he declined to make any further comment on the matter.