Lord Justice Jackson handed down yesterday an important decision on applications to extend time for serving points of dispute in Hallam Estates Ltd & Anor v Baker  EWCA Civ 661. Master Gordon-Saker’s earlier sensible decision was reinstated.
The judgment contains a helpful “executive summary” (more of these please in judgments):
“In detailed assessment proceedings the paying parties applied for a reasonable extension of time in which to serve their points of dispute. That extension of time would not imperil any hearing dates or otherwise disrupt the proceedings. The costs judge granted that extension of time and subsequently rejected an application to set it aside.
The receiving party appealed to the High Court against the latter decision. The judge allowed the appeal on the grounds that (i) there had been non-disclosure and (ii) the costs judge had impermissibly granted relief from sanctions. The allegations of non-disclosure are now withdrawn. Furthermore, the costs judge was not dealing with relief from sanctions. He was making a case management decision about extension of time. The judge ought not to have interfered with the costs judge’s exercise of discretion.”
The decision does highlight one current problem area that parties apparently cannot agree such extensions without the court’s approval being sought:
“Pursuant to rule 3.8 (3) the court’s approval would have been required for any such agreement, but that would have been a formality. By way of digression I comment that rule 3.8 will shortly be amended so that in the ordinary way parties can, without reference to the court, agree extensions of time up to 28 days, provided that this does not put at risk any hearing date.”
Crucially, for applications for extensions made before expiry of the deadline:
“An application for an extension of the time allowed to take any particular step in litigation is not an application for relief from sanctions, provided that the applicant files his application notice before expiry of the permitted time period. This is the case even if the court deals with that application after the expiry of the relevant period. … It therefore follows that on 16th May 2013 the costs judge was dealing with an in-time application. This was a straightforward application to extend time under rule 3.1(2)(a). The principles concerning relief from sanctions which the Court of Appeal enunciated in Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd  EWCA Civ 1537;  1 WLR 795 are not applicable.”
A word of warning in respect of parties unreasonably refusing to agree to extensions of time:
“Nevertheless it was no part of my recommendations that parties should refrain from agreeing reasonable extensions of time, which neither imperil hearing dates nor otherwise disrupt the proceedings. The contrary is the case…”