Issues relating to adjournments are a regular feature of the search terms that lead to this blog.  There are two recent cases where questions relating to adjournments were considered, the first we will look at is  the judgment of Mr Justice Fraser in The Football Association Premier League Ltd v PPLive Sports International Ltd [2022] EWHC 38 (Comm).  The judge refused the defendant’s application for an adjournment of a summary judgment hearing.


The claimant was seeking summary judgment in an action it brought for payments due under a licensing agreement to show football matches.


The defendant, now acting by in-house counsel, sought an adjournment of the application for summary judgment.  This application was refused by the judge.

    1. On 4 November 2021, the firm of solicitors who were then on the court record acting for PPL, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan (“Quinn Emanuel”), applied to come off the record. By that stage, all the pleadings in the proceedings had been served; the Premier League had issued its application for summary judgment on 9 April 2021 supported by evidence (that of Mr Curle, a partner at the Premier League’s firm of solicitors, in his first witness statement dated 9 April 2021); the summary judgment application had been listed for a two day hearing on 29 and 30 November 2021; and PPL had served its own evidence in response (the witness statement of Ms Vernon, a partner at Quinn Emanuel, dated 18 June 2021).
    1. Quinn Emanuel explained in that application that PPL had failed to pay a substantial amount of outstanding legal fees due to them, despite an instalment plan having been agreed with PPL by one of the partners in the case. Quinn Emanuel also explained that PPL did not intend to appoint any replacement firm to act in its stead in these proceedings. Bryan J approved this application on 4 November 2021.
    1. This state of affairs was communicated to DLA Piper UK LLP, the Premier League’s solicitors. DLA Piper ascertained from PPL that PPL did indeed intend to represent itself going forwards in the litigation. PPL did not have a CE-File account (and one could not realistically expect them to have one, given that it is a Hong Kong-based media rights and broadcast company) and DLA Piper assisted them in explaining the need for a formal application to the court in this respect, and the need for the court’s permission to do so. Other helpful procedural advice was also provided by DLA Piper.
    1. This resulted in the following. PPL made an application to the court dated 17 November 2021 that Ms Zuo and Mr Ran of PPL (two of its employees) be permitted to represent PPL in the litigation; it served a skeleton argument for the summary judgment hearing on 19 November 2021 in accordance with the agreed and ordered timetable; it requested permission to appear at the summary judgment application hearing by video link; and it also then applied to adjourn the hearing in a further application dated 19 November 2021.
    1. The second application, the one to adjourn, was opposed by the Premier League, who lodged the second witness statement of Mr Curle in response. In respect of the first application, namely for permission to be represented by its employees, the Premier League’s position was one of cautious neutrality, realising that this was a matter for the court. I considered the applications on the papers and made the following order on 23 November 2021, early in the week before the hearing:
1. Further evidence was invited from PPL regarding the circumstances in which its previous solicitors had ceased to act. This could potentially be relevant to the application to adjourn;
2. Permission was granted to PPL’s named employees to appear for it and make submissions at the summary judgment hearing. However, encouragement was given to PPL to seek to obtain English based solicitors and English qualified counsel, and it was suggested that sufficient time remained before the hearing for this to be done;
3. The hearing would be conducted in what is called “hybrid form” to avoid the need for Ms Zuo and Mr Ran to travel to London;
4. The adjournment application would be heard first on 29 November 2021. This is because it was contested. If it were unsuccessful, the hearing would thereafter proceed. If successful, an alternative date (which would doubtless be well into 2022) would be given.
    1. It is not usually (or ever) advisable for parties to represent themselves in the type of litigation habitually conducted in the Business and Property Courts, including the Commercial Court. It does, however, happen, but only very occasionally in the specialist QB lists. A natural person is entitled as of right to appear before any court and conduct litigation for or against themselves; a limited company has no such right. However, subject to certain requirements being observed (for example the authority of the company in question being demonstrated) the court can be asked for permission and will sometimes grant it. In the Commercial Court, specific discouragement is given in Section M of the Commercial Court Guide generally, and Section M3.1 regarding companies. This identifies that the complexities of cases in the Commercial Court makes representation of a company by an employee particularly unsuitable, and explains that permission will only be given in unusual circumstances. There are obvious reasons for this reluctance on the part of the court to permit employees to represent their employers which it is not necessary to recite.
    1. The reasons that I gave PPL permission to do so for the summary judgment application in this case are as follows. The skeleton argument served by PPL was signed by Ms Zuo – who is in-house counsel – and demonstrated a high level of legal analysis. Indeed, both Ms Zuo and Mr Ran have a high standard of English. The Premier League was seeking summary judgment of a very sizeable instalment which fell due on the admitted date of 1 March 2020. There was certainly time between Quinn Emanuel coming off the record, and the hearing itself, for PPL to have instructed alternative representation absent permission to represent itself, but if (as might prove to be the case) it was relying on lack of funds to pay new solicitors as an explanation for its predicament, that might lead to a non-effective hearing by default. PPL had demonstrated that it could deal with the complexity of the issues by virtue of its own skeleton argument, which gave the court in this instance some comfort that no disadvantage would be experienced, by any party, by granting that application. Additionally, the situation in which PPL found itself seemed (on the face of Quinn Emanuel’s application) to have been caused by non-payment of fees by PPL. No evidence was served by PPL to suggest that was not the case (even though it would also go to the merits of the adjournment application). In my judgment the combination of different circumstances in this case made it unusual.
    1. I was confident that no particular disadvantage would be caused to PPL by its not having separate solicitors and/or counsel, but even if there were, that is something that PPL would have brought upon itself. Additionally, had I refused permission, the Premier League would have simply proceeded on an unopposed application. That did not seem to me to demonstrate a just approach to the matter. In all the circumstances, I concluded that the justice of the case in the unusual circumstances came down on the side of permitting Ms Zuo and Mr Ran to appear for PPL.
    1. No further evidence was served by PPL prior to the hearing and in response to the specific invitation to do so by the court on 23 November 2021 to which I refer above. The hearing therefore proceeded by PPL, first, applying for an adjournment. This was said to be needed to give PPL time for evidence to be compiled and for alternative solicitors to be instructed.
    1. I refused that application to adjourn the hearing for the following reasons:
1. The summary judgment application was issued in April 2020 and served on PPL shortly thereafter. There had been ample time for evidence to be served in accordance with the order of the court and the Commercial Court Guide. In any event, a witness statement had been served already by Ms Vernon as I have explained. That was comprehensive. There was no particular area in which further evidence was called for.
2. There had been sufficient time from Quinn Emanuel coming off the record on 4 November 2021, until the hearing itself over three weeks later, for PPL to have instructed alternative representation. PPL submitted that there had been insufficient time and no-one suitable could be found. I reject that submission for at least two reasons. Firstly, Quinn Emanuel’s application demonstrated that PPL had been given advance notice of the risk of Quinn Emmanuel ceasing to act well before early November; the instalment plan was agreed in September. Secondly, the London legal commercial market is a highly sophisticated one with many different law firms and barristers’ chambers. A high profile case such as this, involving such large sums, would be most attractive to any number of suitable firms. Indeed, the evidence suggested that PPL had intended to represent itself (rather than instruct alternative solicitors) from before the issue of the application by Quinn Emanuel. Seeking time to instruct an alternative firm seemed to me to be a device to buy time.
3. In any event, the fact that PPL did not have solicitors acting for it had been caused, on the evidence before the court, by PPL failing to pay its solicitors the fees claimed which had already been incurred (both for the solicitors and counsel who had settled the pleadings).
4. One of the reasons relied upon by PPL, namely that relevant employees had left the company, could have no bearing on the issues in the summary judgment application because these were points of law and/or construction of the agreement. The primary facts relevant to the termination were agreed, as demonstrated by the pleadings.
5. A re-arranged hearing for a two day application could not be listed for earlier than July 2022 due to the pressure on the resources of the Commercial Court. This would mean that the Premier League would have issued an application for summary judgment in April 2021 that would only eventually be heard some 15 months later. In circumstances where the whole ethos of CPR Part 24 is to deal with cases where a defendant has no real prospect of successfully defending a claim or issue, such delay is to be avoided. This is not to pre-judge that application, but rather to conclude that it ought to be resolved, one way or the other, at a hearing of which the parties had some seven months’ notice.
6. Adjourning the hearing as sought by PPL would, in all the circumstances, be contrary to the over-riding objective.
    1. Indeed, such were the circumstances in this case that even if both parties had presented an agreed application to adjourn, given the over-riding objective in CPR Part 1.1 and the need to consider other court users, it would have taken considerable persuasion for me to grant an adjournment in any event. Even a joint application for an adjournment at such a late stage before a hearing that had been set so far in advance would have faced substantial difficulties.
    1. I also formed the view, given the lack of any witness statement in support setting out proper evidential grounds, that the application to adjourn the hearing was an attempt by PPL to put off the day of reckoning in terms of having to pay the instalments, in particular the very sizeable one due under the LPA in excess of US$210 million.
  1. The hearing of the summary judgment application therefore took place as listed. As matters transpired, Ms Zuo made her oral submissions with some skill, and my conclusion at [17] above that there was no disadvantage to PPL was reinforced. For completeness, I ought to record that each of the agreements contained an exclusive English law clause, both substantive and procedural. This is contained in clause 23 in the LPA and clause 22 in the CPA. There is no issue between the parties regarding the jurisdiction of this court to decide the dispute.