Why ignoring papers from Court can prove costly

Late in the day, Paul was instructed to represent a Defendant freeholder who was served with claims by two leaseholders (acting in person) for disrepair and the costs of redecorating and replacing carpets as a result of a leaking roof and other alleged defects.

The Defendant represented himself at an initial hearing where directions were given to the parties to file “proper” (i.e. Civil Procedure Rules- compliant) Particulars of Claim and a Defence, respectively.
The leaseholders did so (having sought advice) and sought damages for repairs amounting to £19,500 and “general damages” for inconvenience, etc. of a further £3,500 each, and their costs.

The Defendant failed to file or serve a proper Defence and, as a result, his “Defence” was struck out and Judgment against him entered “in default” of filing a Defence. The matter was listed for a “disposal hearing” to assess the correct damages.

The Court order expressly invited the Defendant to apply to set aside the order, which had been made by the Court without a hearing, within 7 days.

A week before the disposal hearing the Defendant finally instructed solicitors, who instructed Paul, and an urgent application was made for relief from sanctions/to set aside the judgment to be heard at the same time as the Disposal Hearing.

The Court found that the Defendant had no good reason for not filing a Defence as ordered and did not deal with the Judgment in Default promptly (taking over 2 months to consult solicitors). Therefore the Court decided that the Judgment would not be set aside and damages were assessed and awarded (although the general damages and costs were both reduced following submissions).

The essential lesson from this case is that, if you receive papers from the Court it is essential that you do what you are ordered. If you don’t understand or are not sure what’s required, seek advice immediately. Ignoring court orders can be very expensive!