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Ignorance of the rules is no defence

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The Supreme Court has recently handed down a judgment in a case involving an individual’s claim against his firm of solicitors.

The Claimant had commenced a negligence claim against his former solicitors and served the court papers on the solicitors by email without checking that the solicitors would accept service by email.  The court rules permit service by email but only where the other party agrees to this form of service.

By the time that the Claimant accepted that he had failed to serve the papers correctly, the claim limitation period had expired and the claim was ultimately struck out.  

The Claimant appealed against this strike out decision. The appeal progressed all the way to the Supreme Court.

Attention focused on whether the fact that the Claimant was not represented (in his original claim against the solicitors) meant that allowances should be made and the requirement for parties to comply with the court rules should be loosened. 

The Supreme Court, in a majority of 3 to 2, dismissed the Claimant’s appeal and decided that there was no good reason to treat the Claimant’s claim as having been validly served.

The Court made it clear that just because a party is not represented does not mean that a lower standard of compliance with rules or court orders should be permitted. 

Lord Sumption confirmed that:-

“Unless the rules… are particularly inaccessible or obscure, it is reasonable to expect a litigant in person to familiarise himself with the rules which apply to any step which he is about to take”.

The Supreme Court’s decision has come as welcome news to legal practitioners who have previously faced (and indeed may continue to face) situations in which an unrepresented party ignores the court rules and pleads ignorance of those rules.  In some cases, this may be understandable, but in many cases, parties are simply playing the system and expecting sympathetic treatment by the court. 

If you have any questions about this article please contact Louise Foy on 01242 586864 or email her here.

This article features in the Hughes Paddison Spring 2018 Property Disputes Update. You can view a summary of the full content of the newsletter and download a copy here.


The information contained on this page has been prepared for the purpose of this blog/article only. The content should not be regarded at any time as a substitute for taking legal advice.