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The Court cracks the whip

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A recent case has provided a stark warning to potential defendants that they should pay close attention to court documents and act promptly (Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust v Shaikh).

In this case, the claimant served a claim on the defendant, alleging that the defendant was responsible for an online campaign of harassment against the claimant and its employees, including allegations of racism, paedophilia, and blackmail.

In any claim, and for obvious reasons, the claimant must ensure that notice of the proceedings is served on the defendant and that the defendant is made aware of the claim. In the case of the Royal Brompton NHS Trust, the claimant took a double-pronged approach. It instructed a process server to serve the claim, but also sent notice of the proceedings to the defendant by email.

The defendant failed to respond. As a result, the claimant obtained what is called ‘judgment in default’. A judgment in default is awarded when a defendant has failed to respond to a claim within the prescribed time limits.

There were subsequently two further Court hearings, neither of which the defendant attended.

The defendant in this case then applied to have the judgment set aside. The questions for the judge to consider were:-

  1. Was the Defendant served with notice of the hearing?
  2. Did the Defendant have a real or reasonable prospect of successfully defending the claim if it was set aside?
  3. Had the Defendant acted promptly in his application?

The judge dismissed the Defendant’s application on the basis that on the “balance of probabilities” it was improbable that both methods of service of the Court papers had failed, so he was “quite satisfied” that the defendant had been made aware of both hearings but simply chose to ignore them. Further, the judge agreed with the “powerful conclusion” drawn at the hearings, and concluded that the defendant was not able to show any prospect of success, let alone a real or reasonable one. Finally, the judge considered that the defendant’s 18 month delay in applying to set aside the judgment was a strikingly clear failure to act promptly; reason alone to dismiss the application.

This case is a robust reminder of the need to act promptly when served with Court documents. The Court has little sympathy for people who bury their heads in the sand.

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