In a stern warning to litigants that Sir Rupert Jackson’s reforms of civil procedure are being robustly enforced, a firm of estate agents came within an ace of missing out on the chance of a £450,000 commission due to its failure to serve witness statements before the expiry of a judge-imposed deadline.
The estate agents sued two defendants, claiming to be entitled to commission on the £25 million sale of a London home. Following a case management conference, a judge directed simultaneous exchange of witness statements by a particular time and date. However, amidst much wrangling over disclosure of evidence, the deadline came and went without compliance by any of the parties.
The estate agents proposed a consensual extension of the deadline; however, the defendants declined that offer and argued that the claim should be struck out. A judge dismissed that application on the basis that it would be unjust to the estate agents to summarily dismiss their claim without a hearing.
In upholding that decision, the Court of Appeal found that, although the estate agents had put forward no good reason for their failure to meet the deadline, they had not ‘deliberately flouted’ the rules. The defendants were not blameless and the estate agents’ default had neither resulted in the loss of the trial window nor had it prejudiced a fair trial of the claim.
However, the Court warned that the sanctions introduced by the Jackson reforms in respect of non-compliance with rules and directions were of ‘paramount importance’ and would be strictly enforced in all save the most unusual cases. With the objective of dealing with cases fairly and at proportionate cost, the position of parties to litigation would in future play second fiddle to the wider interests of justice and the rights of court users in general.