A High Court Judge has found that the rulings in Denton and Mitchell have a “profound importance” when considering applications to set aside Default Judgments.

The Facts

This matter involved a clinical negligence action. The Claimant, Hockleys, issued proceedings against the Defendant, North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust (“NHS”). The proceedings were served, however, NHS served the Acknowledgement of Service 13 days past the deadline, and the Claimant entered Judgment in Default.

NHS applied under CPR 13.3(1)(b) for the Judgment to be set aside and did not place a draft Defence or any evidence before the Court.

This Judgment was successfully set aside by a District Judge at a telephone hearing. Hockleys subsequently appealed this decision.

The appeal was heard before Judge Jeremy Richardson QC, a High Court judge sitting at Hull Civil Appeal Centre.

The Decision

It was found that the Defendant, NHS, was in default for failing to file an Acknowledgement of Service until 13 days after the deadline. Richardson J ruled that the Defendant was “the author of its own misfortune” and found that the default by the NHS was serious and stemmed from incompetence. The Acknowledgement of Service was described as “not a mere procedural formality”, and Richardson J found that there were “no good reasons” to set aside the Judgment in Default. Subsequently, the District Judge’s decision to set aside the Judgment in Default was overturned by Richardson J and the Judgment in Default remained.

Richardson J found that the three stage test in Denton had considerable relevance to an application when considering the “good reason” ground in CPR 13.3(1)(b). It was seen that the reason for the default was the incompetence of the NHS prior to handing the matter over to solicitors. When a Defendant relies upon the “good reason” ground, the Court must “embrace scrutiny of the seriousness of the default and why it occurred.”

Comment

This case highlights that Mitchell and Denton remain in the forefront of Judge’s minds and that Judges are keen to emphasise the need for a new culture of compliance with the CPR.

The three stage test in Denton remains of “considerable relevance” to the “good reason” ground.