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Facing Litigation? Don’t Sit on Your Hands!

In a stern warning to litigants that they will rarely win the day by sitting on their hands, a recruitment consultant forfeited her right to defend herself, and was left facing a damages bill in excess of £700,000, after failing adequately to engage in proceedings in which she was accused of diverting business from her employers to her own consultancy company.

Royal Courts of JusticeThe woman, who was a senior employee of a recruitment agency specialising in the investment banking and wealth management sector, was alleged to have placed a high-ranking candidate through her own company in breach of her employment contract and fiduciary duty.  She was also claimed to have emailed to her company confidential information, including client names and contact details, belonging to her employers (the claimants).

The claimants obtained a judgment against her and her company (the defendants) in default of acknowledgment of service and a quantum trial followed at which the latter were ordered to pay more than £700,000 compensation. They subsequently applied without success to set aside the default judgment.

At neither of those hearings had the defendants appeared or been represented and a judge had described the procedural history of the matter as being ‘as remarkable as it was depressing’.  An application to adjourn the quantum trial had been ‘yet another chapter in a story of failure to engage in litigation’.

The defendants lodged a challenge at the Court of Appeal but again failed to appear or arrange legal representation. The woman was refused an adjournment which she had sought on medical grounds and the appeal was dismissed after the court ruled that fairness to the claimants demanded that the case proceed in the defendants’ absence.

Dismissing the appeal, the court found that there had been a clear unwillingness on the defendants’ part to take part in the litigation process. In the circumstances, the defendants had no realistic prospect of successfully defending the claims against them and there was no purpose in staying the award of damages.