High Court gets Tough on Timekeeping

The High Court has flexed its case management powers by refusing a last-minute Trial adjournment requested by a Litigant in Person (to whom leniency is usually allowed!).

The Litigant in Person requested that the Trial be adjourned for 2 weeks as a result of time pressures and her belief that the opposing party had failed to sufficiently comply with a “specific disclosure” Order (i.e. to produce specific documentation to the Court).

In giving his reasons, the Judge provided helpful guidance on the relevant factors in respect of adjournment applications and reinforced that, if it became apparent during the Trial that further information was required, this could be dealt with by the Trial Judge.

He also refused the application for an adjournment, because:

  • When the original disclosure Order was made, the Judge was fully aware of the Trial date and the time pressures that the parties would be under;
    The impact of an adjournment would have been “very considerable indeed” and, having incurred significant costs preparing for the Trial, the opponent would lose and/or duplicate much of these costs if the Trial was to be adjourned at such a late stage;
  • Any adjournment would likely push back the Trial by several months, rather than the 2 weeks requested by the Litigant in Person, and, as it was an “old and lengthy claim” (issued in 2007), it was in the interests of both parties that it be determined promptly; and
  • The documents that had been disclosed were “relatively peripheral” to the case so did not justify the adverse consequences of a late adjournment.

Matthew Howat, Commercial & Dispute Partner, comments: “The Courts have for a long time shown leniency to litigants in person, particularly when it comes to timetables and procedural compliance. This fact only reinforces the robust nature of this decision by the High Court in making clear the importance of strict compliance with the Court timetable and the sanctity of the Trial date, which will only be disturbed in exceptional circumstances”.

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