The Court of Appeal has recently summarised the issues to be taken into account when deciding whether a refusal to adjourn a trial was fair.

In Dhillon (by her litigation friend) v Yaw Asiedu, the proceedings related to a loan by Asiedu to Dhillon, which Dhillon failed to repay. The trial was listed for hearing but was vacated when Dhillon's main witness (and friend) who had negotiated the loan died. Dhillon suffered a severe bereavement reaction. The adjourned trial was also vacated due to Dhillon's ill-health.

Dhillon then missed several deadlines for service of her witness statement and was debarred from relying upon witness evidence at trial. Dhillon's application to vacate the third trial date was refused. Medical evidence indicated she lacked capacity and a litigation friend was appointed to act on her behalf. An application for an adjournment on the day of the trial was also refused.

Dhillon appealed on the basis it was fundamentally unfair to refuse to adjourn the trial given that she lacked capacity and was unable to attend and give evidence or be cross-examined.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. It held that cases had to be dealt with expeditiously and fairly for all concerned taking all relevant matters into account. It was only if the trial judge had failed to take into account relevant matters, had considered irrelevant matters, erred in principle, or come to a decision that was impermissible, that his judgment could be overturned.

Here, the evidence of Dhillon's incapacity was produced very late and was not a sufficient factor to merit an adjournment. Dhillon had had capacity at an earlier stage and should have produced her evidence and witness statement during that time but had failed to do so. The fact that Asiedu lived abroad and had had to travel to the UK especially to attend the trial had to be taken into account.

Further, the trial judge had found that most of the negotiations for the loan had been undertaken by Dhillon's deceased friend, so it was unlikely that Dhillon could have given much material evidence in any event. The trial judge had had to balance all of the relevant factors and the Court of Appeal held that the trial judge's discretion to refuse an adjournment had been properly exercised.

Things to consider

Although this may seem a harsh decision for Dhillon, the court had to balance all the relevant circumstances. The fact that one party lived abroad and had had to travel to the UK to attend the trial was very telling; as was the fact that Dhillon had failed to progress matters during periods of capacity when she could and should have done so.