The High Court considered the meaning of "inordinate delay" in an application to have proceedings dismissed for want of prosecution on grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay.

The Facts

Brian Maxwell (the Plaintiff) brought High Court proceedings against Irish Life Assurance plc and its agent (the Defendants) on 1 September 2010 seeking specific performance of his serious illness insurance policy (the Policy) or an award of damages for breach of the Policy. The Defendants brought an application on 17 July 2015 to have the proceedings dismissed for want of prosecution on grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay.

The Plaintiff suffered a heart attack in June 2006 and subsequently made a claim against the Policy. The claim was rejected by Irish Life Assurance plc because the Plaintiff failed to disclose that he was a smoker and that there was a history of heart attacks in his family.

In its application to dismiss proceedings, the Defendants argued that (i) a 22 month delay by the Plaintiff before delivering Replies to Particulars, and (ii) a further two year delay until a letter seeking voluntary discovery was sent on behalf of the Plaintiff was an "inordinate delay" and that the proceedings should be dismissed as a result.

"Inordinate Delay"

The court relied on Primor plc v Stokes Kennedy Crowley [1996] to hold that the court had inherent jurisdiction to dismiss a claim where the interest of justice required it. The burden was on the Defendants to establish that the delay was inordinate and inexcusable. In arguing that a two year delay was inordinate, the Defendants relied on Order 122, Rule 11 of the Rules of the Superior Courts which allows a party to apply to court to dismiss a cause "in which there has been no proceeding for two years from the last proceedings". However, the court disagreed and held that an "inordinate delay" should be considered in light of the ordinary standards of litigation. It held that the first delay by the Plaintiff of over 22 months and the subsequent delay of two years amounted to an inordinate delay under these parameters.

Having found that "inordinate delay" existed, the court then considered whether the balance of justice was in favour of or against the proceeding of the case. It was held that the delay in the case had given rise to a substantial risk that it would not be possible to have a fair trial.


In granting the Defendants' application, the court ordered the dismissal of the proceedings. The decision is noteworthy for considering the level of delay which will be sufficiently inordinate and inexcusable by the courts to dismiss proceedings for want of prosecution.