The recent court decision of Little v Bloomsbury Law Solicitors  11 WLUK 351 is a timely reminder to both solicitors and litigants that missing court deadlines can have fatal consequences to a party’s case, and could lead to subsequent professional negligence proceedings against the solicitors who have missed the deadline.
The parties had been involved in litigation since 2019 in relation to the release of funds to Mr Little by Bloomsbury Law Solicitors (the defendant), following a property transaction. At an initial hearing, a High Court Master had determined the amount to be paid, together with interest and costs. Mr Little appealed the order and in response, Bloomsbury Law Solicitors filed their own appeal (albeit out of time).
Court rules provided that Mr Little’s solicitors should file an appeal bundle within 35 days of his appeal notice. They failed to do so. Bloomsbury Law Solicitors wrote to Mr Little’s solicitors asking about the appeal bundle, and enquiring whether the same bundle could be used for both appeals. Mr Little’s solicitors did not respond, and the matter went before the court which made an ‘unless order’, stating that unless the appeal bundle was filed within one month, Mr Little’s appeal would be struck out.
There was no provision in the unless order that it needed to be served on Mr Little’s solicitors, but the court did upload a copy of the unless order to the Courts Electronic Filing system (CE-filing system), used by solicitors to file documents with the court. Mr Little’s solicitors failed to file the appeal bundle by the new deadline, and only became aware of the court’s unless order in January 2022, nearly two years after it was made.
Mr Little’s solicitors applied to the court for relief from sanctions, namely that the unless order be set aside and Mr Little’s appeal be reinstated.
The court refused Mr Little’s application. It determined that even though the unless order had not been served on Mr Little’s solicitors, the fact that it had been uploaded to the CE-file, meant that they did have access to it, particularly as Bloomsbury Law Solicitors had asked about it.
Mr Little’s solicitors argued that the Covid-19 pandemic had prevented them from filing the bundle, but the court dismissed this argument and said that the solicitors should have checked the CE-file, and been aware that an appeal bundle would need to be filed following their appeal notice.
In reaching their decision as to whether relief should be granted, the court followed the guidelines set out in the case of Denton v TH White & others from 2014, which set out a three-stage test for the court to follow in such applications:
- One: Is the breach (of the court’s order) ‘serious or significant’?
- Two: If it is, why did the default occur?
- Three: Consider all the circumstances of the case in order to deal with the application ‘justly’, including (a) the need for litigation to be conducted efficiently and at a proportionate cost and (b) the need to enforce compliance with rules, directions and court orders.
The court felt that as there had been a serious and significant breach of the unless order (in not filing the appeal bundle on time), and there was no good reason for the breach, relief from sanctions should not be granted. It, therefore, followed that Mr Little’s appeal was not re-instated.
The decision is a warning to solicitors to adhere to court time limits and to check with the court or the CE-filing system on a regular basis if they have ongoing proceedings.
Missing deadlines is not that unusual, and if you believe that you have suffered a loss as a result of your former solicitors missing a court deadline, then we may be able to assist you with your claim. If you’d like to seek further advice from our team, submit an enquiry here.