The importance of being courtly: a stark reminder of the seriousness of Court deadlines

  • If a party in litigation believes it will not be able to keep to a deadline, it must seek an extension of time.
  • Such agreement must be in writing.
  • If an extension is not obtained and the deadline is missed, the effects can be fatal.

Any litigator will know the importance of keeping to Court deadlines which are set out in Court orders or the CPR. Indeed, CPR 1.1(2)(f) provides that the Civil Procedure Rules is a procedural code with the overriding objective to enable the Court to deal with cases justly and at appropriate costs, to include ‘…enforcing compliance with rules, practice directions and orders.’ Hence, if a party believes it will not be able to keep to a deadline, it is equally important to seek an extension of time. CPR 2.11 provides that the parties are able to agree extensions up to 28 days, with the proviso that such agreement must be in writing. If an extension is not agreed/obtained and the deadline is missed, the effects can be significantly detrimental and, in some instances, even fatal.

A stark reminder of the consequences of not keeping to Court deadlines was served in the recent High Court case of Lonsdale and others v Wedlake Bell LLP and others [2022] EWHC 2169 (QB), which was a professional negligence claim with a value of £1.3m. A claim form (CF1) was issued in July 2021 and emailed to the Defendant stating that this was not formal service. CPR 7.5(1) provides that a Claim Form must be served within four months after the date of issue. Hence, CF1 was due to be served by November 2021. The parties agreed to extend that deadline to December 2021. However, the Claimant did not serve CF1 until January 2022. The Claimant issued a second Claim Form with the same parties and the same substantive claims as CF1 in December 2021.

The Defendant applied for a declaration that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear the claim set out in CF1 or that service of CF1 be set aside on the basis that it had not been served in accordance with CPR 7.5(1). The Claimant applied for a declaration that a valid extension of time had been agreed or, alternatively, that it should be treated as being served in time. In support of that application, the Claimant relied on an email from the Defendant’s solicitors seeking to agree dates for a mediation in 2022. The Claimant argued that that email amounted to an acceptance that there was no need to agree a new date by which CF1 needed to be served.

The Defendant’s application was allowed, the Claimant’s application was dismissed. In its judgment, the Court considered that the Claimant took no steps to effect service of CF1 or agree an extension before the deadline expired. In respect of the assertion that there was a valid extension, the Court found that there was no representation or assurance capable of disclosing that the Defendant had agreed to a further extension. The second Claim Form has been stayed pending the outcome of the parties’ application in respect of CF1.

This case highlights the importance of managing Court deadlines and properly agreeing extensions of time and that any agreement to extend must be in writing. In this instance, the Claimant failed to serve CF1 by an already extended deadline. Given that a further extension was not obtained and there was nothing to suggest that there were any special circumstances, the Court dismissed the Claimant’s application and in doing so, effectively struck out the original claim.

Written by: Richard David (Legal Executive)

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