A recent High Court case has reinforced the importance of meeting deadlines and fully explaining any delays when involved in litigation.
The Court, in Redbourn Group Ltd v Fairgate Development Ltd  EWHC 1223 (TCC), refused to set aside a default judgment because the defendant’s solicitors had failed to file a defence in good time.
Events unfolded as follows:
Mid-Nov 16 Draft court papers sent to the defendant
01 Dec 16 Defendant instructs solicitors
23 Dec 16 Claimant issues proceedings
20 Jan 17 Defendant’s solicitors seek 28 additional days to file a defence. The claimant’s offer of an additional seven days is ignored
25 Jan 17 Deadline for defence passes without a defence being filed
09 Mar 17 Default judgment entered in favour of claimant.
14 Mar 17 Defendant applies to set aside default judgment
11 May 17 Defendant files a defence and counterclaim (a week before the application is heard)
Upon hearing the application, HHJ Coulson refused to set aside the default judgment stating at para 17;
“My view, prior to being shown any authorities, was that r3.9 was plainly relevant to any application to set aside; after all, there is no greater sanction than judgment being entered in default of defence and no more important relief from sanction than being allowed to set aside that judgment so as to be able to put forward a defence…..the relevance of r3.9 to any application under r13.3 has been specifically endorsed by the Court of Appeal in Gentry v Miller  1 WLR 2696.”
A no-nonsense approach by the court
The judgment of HHJ Coulson demonstrates the importance of applying the rest for relief from sanctions alongside assessing the merits of a prospective defence when seeking to set aside judgment. The Learned Judge submitted that “even if I was wrong on … CPR r.13.3, I would conclude that, in accordance with Denton, [the defendant has] not made out a case to be granted relief from sanctions. So the application to set aside judgment would still fail.”
The court took a welcome contextual approach here: not only punishing a defaulting party for breaching the Civil Procedure Rules (which govern how the courts are run), but looking at the reasons behind their actions and/or defaults.
This case places the onus upon parties in litigation to conform with court deadlines. Parties in receipt of proceedings must consider their position promptly and set out their case fully with sufficient evidence. If judgment is entered in default because of delay, the application must explain why there is a realistic prospect of success and why there was a delay honestly and in light of the circumstances of the case (thereby satisfying, if circumstances permit, CPR3.9).
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