GLADWIN & SANCTIONS – AN ANALYSIS 1: WHAT WENT WRONG
In Gladwin -v- Bogescu  EWHC 1287 (QB) Mr Justice Turner overturned an order giving the claimant relief from sanctions following late service of the witness statement. In a series looking at the case more closely we look at what went wrong. The claimant sought an extension of time for service of witness evidence, ignored the agreed extension, took the witness statement two months late and applied for relief from sanctions in the week before trial.
THE JUDGE’S VIEW
The opening words of the judgment make it clear where responsibility for the problems lay.
This case started life as a very straightforward and relatively low value road traffic accident claim but thereafter descended into procedural chaos. Responsibility for this state of affairs is entirely that of the claimant’s solicitors who have, through a combination of complacency and procrastination, proceeded as if compliance with the Civil Procedure Rules and the orders of this court were of scant importance
The chronology explains the judge’s views.
“On 29 November 2014, the defendant drove his car into collision with the claimant’s motorcycle. Liability was never in issue. Quantum, however, was in significant dispute. For example, the defendant was naturally curious as to how, according to Facebook, the claimant had managed, at a time when he had told his reporting doctor that he was still suffering from significant symptoms, to win the silver medal in the Kent Kyu Open Judo Competition. The defendant was also sceptical of his claim for hire charges of £17,151.12 in respect of the provision of a temporary replacement for a six year old motorcycle which ultimately cost only £909.78 to repair.
Proceedings were commenced in April 2016. In due course, on 23 August 2016, the case came before District Judge Coffey who gave directions which followed a template then in common use in the County Court at Liverpool in respect of so-called credit hire cases. He ordered service of all witness statements by 4pm on 3 November 2014. The consequences of default were also set out:
“Oral evidence will not be permitted at trial from a witness whose statement has not been served in accordance with this order or has been served late, except with permission from the Court.”
“Consequence of failure to serve witness statement or summary
32.10 If a witness statement or a witness summary for use at trial is not served in respect of an intended witness within the time specified by the court, then the witness may not be called to give oral evidence unless the court gives permission.”
At the last minute, and on the very day upon which service of witness statements had been ordered to take place, the claimant’s solicitors asked the defendant’s solicitors for an extension of time for service of witness statements until 17 November 2016 and this indulgence was granted. At about that time, the relevant file was passed from one member of the claimant’s firm to another. The evidence suggests that the solicitor with conduct of the claim had done nothing whatsoever between August and November to set about the routine task of obtaining a witness statement from her client.
The extended date for compliance came and went. In consequence of an internal procedural failure, the solicitor to whom the poisoned chalice had been passed was not expressly told of the extended date of compliance. One might reasonably have expected, however, that, at the very latest, when the defendant served its witness statements on 17 November then alarm bells would have started to ring at the claimant’s solicitors’ offices. Apparently, they did not.
Indeed, it was not until nearly a month later on 15 December 2017 in the completed Listing Questionnaire that the claimant’s solicitors first acknowledged the fact that they were in breach of the order for service of the witness statements. An immediate application ought then to have been made for relief from sanctions. It was not. In the event, a witness statement was not obtained from the claimant until 5 January 2017.
Eventually, less than a week before trial, the claimant’s solicitors applied for relief from sanctions and permission for the claimant to give oral evidence. The terms of the order applied for by the claimant acknowledged that if the relief sought were granted then the trial date would have to be vacated. Mr Williams QC on behalf of the claimant began his submissions on this appeal with the observation that to describe the situation as being unsatisfactory would be a gross understatement. I agree.
THE CHRONOLOGY IN SUMMARY
- The order for service of witness statements was made on the 23rd August 2016.
- Witness statements were to be exchanged by the 3rd November 2016.
- On the 3rd November 2016 the claimant asked, for the first time, for an extension of time to the 17th November 2016,
- The defendant served its witness evidence on the 17th November 2016. The claimant did nothing.
- On the 15th December 2016 the claimant realised it needed relief from sanctions.
- The witness statement was not taken until the 5th January 2017.
- The application for relief from sanctions was not made until a week before trial.
- The trial on the 8th February 2017 was taken up solely with the issue of relief from sanctions and the claimant’s application for an adjournment.