JUDGE GRANTS DEFENDANT RELIEF FROM SANCTIONS IN RELATION TO LATE FILING OF THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF SERVICE

In Cambpell v Chief Land Registrar [2022] EWHC 200 (Ch) HHJ Hodge (sitting as a judge of the High Court) granted the defendant relief from sanctions following its failure to acknowledge service in time.

“it would be unjust if two claims that are an abuse of process and are totally without merit were to be allowed to proceed, or to succeed, purely due to procedural oversights either by a third party, in the person of Royal Mail, or by staff employed by the Registrar, in circumstances where they have caused no prejudice.”

THE CASE

The claimants all brought claims seeking rectification of the property register on the grounds that mortgages had not been properly signed. The defendant Registrar had been late in filing an acknowledgement of service to two of the claims and required relief from sanctions. This issue was considered on the defendant’s application to strike out the claims as having no merit.

THE JUDGMENT

The judge struck out the claims. He also granted the defendant’s application for relief from sanctions.

    1. I have already mentioned that in relation to two of the claims, that brought by Mr Selwyn Charles Campbell and that brought by Ms Yolanda Blicharz‑Szmid, it is necessary for the defendant to seek a retrospective extension of time for responding to the claims and permission to participate in them.  As I have mentioned, the reasons for that are explained in paragraphs 20 to 24 and 23 to 28 of the witness statement made by Mr Abraham in response to the claims of Mr Selwyn Campbell and Ms Yolanda Blicharz‑Szmid respectively.  Those claims did not immediately come to the attention of the defendant Registrar, meaning that the acknowledgment of service and the applications and supporting evidence were served outside the 14 day period prescribed by the Civil Procedure Rules.
    1. In summary, Ms Blicharz‑Szmid appears to have posted the proceedings to the Land Registry, but there is no trace of them ever having been received.  That is believed to be due to delivery disruptions at Royal Mail.  The claim by Ms Blicharz‑Szmid first came to the Registrar’s actual notice about a month later when Mortgage Five Zero Limited made a without prejudice offer to the Registrar on their client’s behalf.  The proceedings were not received until Mortgage Five Zero emailed them to the Registrar.  He then acknowledged service, and promptly made the application for relief less than a week later.
    1. In the case of Mr Selwyn Campbell, his claim was posted to the Land Registry and received there but, because it did not contain an identifying title number, it was mis-filed, along with similar correspondence relating to a different title, and was subsumed into that lead title without raising any internal new attachment flag to trigger any review.  Mr Selwyn Campbell’s mortgagee had notified the Registrar that it was aware of a claim, but this filing error meant that staff concluded that it had not yet been served.  The details of the claim were not unearthed until about two to three months later when service was promptly acknowledged; and the application for relief was made equally promptly.
  1. Ms Yates refers me to the well‑known three stage approach in Denton v White [2014] 1 WLR 3926 at paragraph 24.  She invites the court to find that it would further the overriding objective to grant the relief sought.  Addressing the three stage test:  First, neither breach is serious and significant because it has not imperilled any hearing date or caused prejudice to either claimant, or otherwise disrupted the normal conduct of the litigation.  The applications for relief were made promptly after the errors were discovered, and the two claimants were put on ample notice of the Registrar’s position by the full statements which accompanied the two strike‑out and summary judgment applications in the two relevant claims.  Secondly, the Registrar’s non‑compliance with the prescribed timetable was neither intentional nor wilful in either case, but was caused by a combination of human and system errors.  Thirdly, looking at all the circumstances, it would be unjust if two claims that are an abuse of process and are totally without merit were to be allowed to proceed, or to succeed, purely due to procedural oversights either by a third party, in the person of Royal Mail, or by staff employed by the Registrar, in circumstances where they have caused no prejudice.  That injustice would be even more serious in the case of Mr Selwyn Campbell because, had it not been for the short gap between the currency of the two general civil restraint orders, he would not have been permitted to proceed with his claim at all.