The Court of Appeal has handed down a judgment which acts as a strong reminder that litigants in person are expected to comply with the Civil Procedure Rules.
The case concerned a former litigant in person who was in prison at the time of the hearing itself, who had instructed counsel to attend on their behalf.
Giving the unanimous judgment of the Court in Lakatamia v Su  EWCA Civ 1626, Lord Justice Lewison, with whom Lady Justice Asplin agreed without qualification, held that a 4-month delay to the filing of an Appellant’s Notice was unacceptable. The application for a time extension to file the Notice was dismissed. Counsel for the Applicant accepted that the relevant test was the 3-stage test from Denton v TH White and Others  1 WLR 795. The seriousness and significance of the breach was conceded without any argument. There were 2 reasons advanced for the breach. Both of these were rejected by the Court, which held that neither of those were good reasons for the breach. The application also failed the third stage of the Denton test.
The first reason advanced for why the breach occurred was that the Applicant had dis-instructed solicitors at the point when they were committed to prison for contempt of court. The Judge made short shrift of this contention, holding that a lack of legal representation was not a good reason for the delay. Litigants in person were required to comply with the CPR all the same. The Judge made reference to R (Hysaj) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 1195 as authority for this proposition. It was also immaterial whether the Applicant had the assistance of a McKenzie Friend or not; on these facts, the Applicant did have such assistance, but had still failed to file the Notice by, or close to, the deadline.
The second reason put forward was that there had been difficulties in assembling the court fee of £1,199 for the Notice. The Judge stated that despite producing over 50 pages in support of the appeal, nowhere within those pages was there any explanation of the efforts taken to obtain sufficient funds. It is worth noting that the Applicant was previously found to be in contempt of court for not disclosing their beneficial interest in two properties in Monaco, the ‘Villa Rignon’ and the ‘Villa Du Royan’. The Judge at first instance had already found as fact that there was a beneficial interest in both properties which had not been disclosed by the Applicant, and made this finding having applied the higher standard of proof in English law, that of beyond reasonable doubt.
Applying the third stage of the Denton test, the Judge held that a cursory examination of the merits of the appeal left them wanting. The prospects of success were ‘extremely weak’. This justified dismissing the application, it was held, because in all the circumstances the relief from sanctions should not be granted. The Applicant had been represented by counsel at the committal hearing. The other contempt (further to the above) on which that hearing was based was the attempt by Mr Su to flee the jurisdiction. There was no objection raised at that hearing to the form of the evidence given by a police officer, it being in a witness statement rather than an affidavit. Yet the appeal was based on the inadequacy of the form of this evidence. Lewison LJ pointed out that counsel had not objected at the hearing, there was no application made to cross-examine the police officer, and further, that there were affidavits from other witnesses which confirmed the essential facts in any event.
The Court has therefore re-affirmed the principles set out within the Supreme Court’s decision in Barton v Wright Hassall LLP  UKSC 12. There is nothing to shield litigants in person from the consequences of non-compliance with the rules and in the absence of good reason for their failure to comply, applications for relief from sanctions, or for time extensions, will continue to be dismissed by the courts.