Jahangir v Service Insurance Co, Huddersfield County Court [2016]

The facts

The claimants and the defendant’s insured were involved in an accident in January 2013. The claimants brought court proceedings, and a telephone allocation hearing took place in August 2016 where orders were made, including an order for standard disclosure. It was stipulated that disclosure was to include the claimants’ medical records and full details of any previous accidents which they had been involved in.

The parties agreed to extend the time for compliance with the disclosure order until 28 September 2016 and on this date the claimants’ solicitor served a list of documents signed by him, instead of the claimants. This list of documents made no reference to the claimants’ medical records or to any previous accidents, in breach of the court order.

The defendant’s solicitor invited the claimant to remedy the errors within seven days but the claimant failed to do this and the defendant sought to strike out the claim for breach of the court order.

The claimants served further disclosure lists approximately one month after the original list had been served, which were signed by them and not their solicitor. However, the lists did not specifically refer to the medical records but instead referred to an authority for the release of the records, which was only addressed to the claimant’s solicitor. Also, insufficient information was provided in respect of the claimant’s previous accidents.

The claimants’ full medical records were not disclosed until two months after the original deadline and an application for relief from sanctions was not made until the day of the hearing for the defendant’s strike out application.

County court decision

The court stated that the appropriate test to be applied was the three-stage test set out in Denton v TH White Ltd [2014] EWCA Civ 906. The first stage involved determining whether the claimants’ breaches of the disclosure order were serious and significant and counsel for the claimants conceded that the breaches had been both serious and significant.

In respect of the second stage of the Denton test, the court considered whether there was good reason for the breaches and held that there was no good reason for the claimants’ delay in providing their medical records, or for their failure to provide full details of previous accidents. The court concluded that the claimants’ delayed statements that provided dates of previous accidents did not amount to provision of full details in accordance with the requirements of the court order.

Whilst, in respect of the third stage of Denton, the court assessed all of the circumstances of the case, to include the fact that the application for relief had not been made promptly and had been left until the day of the hearing. It was concluded that the defendant had been prejudiced by the late and incomplete disclosure so as a result the trial would possibly have to be postponed. Further, it was seen that the claimants' cases had not been conducted efficiently and at a proportionate cost, and that there had clearly been breaches of the rules and the court order. As a result, the court considered that it was appropriate to strike out the claims and to reject the claimants’ application for relief from sanctions.

What this means for you

This is an important case which shows that it is essential for parties to comply with court directions and court orders. Also, this case highlights that the courts will not permit applications for relief from sanctions as a matter of course and that it is crucial for applications for relief to be made promptly.

The court referred to the case of Clearway Drainage Systems Ltd v Miles Smith Ltd [2016] EWCA Civ 1258, in respect of it being important to promptly make an application for relief from sanctions. In this case, the claimant had delayed with making their application for relief which was a factor that went against their application being successful. .

Further, this decision highlights the importance of making an application for an extension of time as soon as it becomes apparent that it will not be possible to comply with a court order or direction beyond the period of 28 days, which is the period of time in which a court direction can be extended, without the courts permission being required.

In addition, any application for relief from sanctions should be made prior to the date for compliance with the court order elapsing. In the event that the deadline for compliance has elapsed then an application should urgently be made with evidence to show that there was a good reason for the breach and that it would be unjust and disproportionate for the court to refuse the application, having regard to the overall circumstances of the case.