Litigation is sometimes criticised as slow and expensive. The ‘Jackson Reforms’, which came into force earlier this year, are intended to get to grip with these issues.
The recent case of Dass –v- Dass gives an interesting insight into the court’s current approach to a failure by a party to adhere to the court timetable. Although heard in July 2013, Dass was decided under the previous, supposedly more lenient, rules and should serve as a warning to those considering dragging their heels in litigation.
Dass concerned a personal injury claim, arising from a serious car accident in August 2007. In November 2010 the court ordered that any further medical expert reports be filed and served by May 2011. This deadline came and went with no further expert evidence from the defendant. The claimant chased in March 2012 and again in February 2013.
The matter next came before the court in March 2013. The Master took the view that the defendant’s failure to comply with the court directions was deliberate and tactical, in that it was calculated to allow additional time for surveillance of the claimant. The Master ordered that the defendant should not be allowed to rely on expert evidence, with undoubted serious consequences. The defendant unsuccessfully appealed against the debarring order. The Judge noted that appeals against orders of this sort would succeed only where the decision was plainly wrong. This was not such a case, for the reasons given in the Master’s original decision.
The Judge took a robust view in dismissing the appeal:
“The Court had made a court order; court orders are to be obeyed. If parties are unable to comply with court orders because of new developments, of whatever reason, they must come back to the Court and seek an extension of time or a fresh order. They cannot simply blithely ignore court orders as if they are a thing writ in water... Let this be a lesson that parties who deliberately refuse to comply with court orders for tactical reasons do so at their own peril”.
The decision is noteworthy for three reasons.
- Neither side had done much to advance the litigation and were both in part to blame for the very slow progress
- The Jackson Reforms are commonly understood to introduce an even tougher regime than which applied to this case
- The Court did not give the defendant a ‘final warning’ before being making the order debarring further expert evidence