In an important ruling, the High Court has made plain that, in the light of Sir Rupert Jackson’s reforms to the civil procedure rules and the ever increasing emphasis on prompt compliance, sitting on hands is no longer an option in civil litigation.
An American businessman who claimed that he had been employed by a UK company buthad not been paid for his work had obtained a default judgment for more than £360,000 after the company failed to acknowledge or put in a defence to his claim.
The company had done nothing for more than a year before seeking to set aside that judgment and only took the appropriate steps after court enforcement officers arrived at its office. In the light of that delay, a Master of the Queen’s Bench Division refused to set aside the judgment despite recognising that the company had a viable defence to the claim.
In dismissing the company’s appeal against that decision, the Court noted the sea change brought about by the Jackson reforms and found that it was a clear case of ‘serious, sustained and inexcusable failure’ by the company and its legal adviser to comply with well-known and important obligations with reasonable promptitude.
Observing that all solicitors are expected to be aware of the impact of the Jackson reforms, the Court noted, “The stark fact is that a party against whom a judgment in default has been entered has a clear obligation to apply promptly for the discharge of the judgment…it is no excuse for any delay for that party to wait to see if the claimant will agree to the discharge of the judgment.”