This post is intended to serve as a brief note on applications for relief from sanctions.
CPR 3.9 sets out the criteria that govern applications for relief from sanctions. This rule states that a Court must consider all the circumstances including the need for litigation to be conducted efficiently and at proportionate cost, along with the need to enforce compliance with rules, practice directions and orders.
Following the Jackson reforms, the application of the rules were tightened with the intention that parties that default on Court Orders would be punished more readily.
The case of Mitchell v NGN  EWCA Civ 1537 set out further guidance to the reforms including a two stage test on the harsher rules implemented. Following this case there appeared to be a general disorder within the civil litigation process in that parties too readily refused to co-operate in the hope that the court would penalise parties who committed minor infractions. This led to Courts facing a disproportionate increase in applications to strike out.
3 Stage Test - Denton v TH White Limited EWCA Civ 90
In July 2014, the Master of Rolls clarified the position following Mitchell in the case of Denton v TH White Limited  EWCA Civ 90.
The first question that the Court will seek to establish is whether the application has been made promptly. If satisfied with this, the Court will then consider the 3 stage test set out in Denton:
1. Is the breach serious or significant? Other minor breaches should not be considered at this stage.
It was held in Denton that multiple insignificant breaches do not amount to a serious breach, however multiple defaults could be considered at the third stage. Relief will usually be granted if the breach is not significant. If the default is serious, the Judge will then consider stages two and three.
2. The second consideration is why the default occurred. The guidance in Mitchell is not a comprehensive nor prescriptive list, it merely lays out some examples. If the default was serious and there is no good reason for the breach, that does not mean the application will automatically fail as the Judge should always consider stage three in any event.
3. The third requirement is for the Judge to consider all the circumstances of the case, so as to enable them to deal justly with the application. The two criteria as set out in CPR 3.9 above are of particular importance, however they are not the only considerations.
The test set out in Denton demonstrates that although the two factors set out in CPR 3.9 are important, these are not the only considerations and all the factors of the case must be considered.
If the breach has prevented the Court or parties from conducting the litigation efficiently or the default has had disproportionate cost implications, the Court will be more inclined to refuse relief.
It is also worth noting that CPR 3.8(4) allows the Court to extend the deadline for compliance with Directions and Orders. The Court has made it clear that parties should attempt to cooperate whilst conducting litigation.
Additionally, the Court has been critical of parties who to gain an advantage by seeking strike out or sanctions following minor breaches. Contested relief from sanctions applications should be rare and exceptional.
The Denton judgment is clear in that defaults which jeopardise Directions or trial dates are serious and are most likely to result in a refusal for relief.
Pro Forma Denton Skeleton Argument - Download.