Can relief from sanctions be granted for a late Reply after the hearing of an application for Summary Judgment has taken place? Yes, says the High Court.
The High Court has decided that a Reply to Defence would have been eligible for relief from sanctions, notwithstanding the fact that the Reply was filed and served after the hearing of an application for Summary Judgment made by the Defendant.
In Sports Mantra India Private Limited v Force India Formula One Team Limited, Lance Ashworth QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, granted the application for Summary Judgment after having considered the Claimant’s late filing of a Reply to Defence. The Judge considered that the only reason the same had been filed and served after the hearing of the application was because he had raised the question of estoppel during the hearing, and pointed out that it had not been raised within the Particulars of Claim, which the Judge considered to have been overly verbose and excessively long.
The judge considered the 3-stage test from Denton v TH White & Ors and concluded that whilst the breach was serious and significant, it fell towards the lowermost end of the bracket for what could be considered to be seriousness. He considered there was no good reason for late service. There was no reason the Reply to Defence could not have been served at any earlier point after the Defence had been filed and served. However, the Judge held that the third limb of the Denton test, a consideration of all the circumstances, demanded that the Overriding Objective be given effect. He held that to prevent the Claimant from running an estoppel argument which may have saved its case would be unjust.
On these facts, the prospective application for relief was refused on the basis that even were it to be granted, the Claimant’s claim was bound to fail in any event on other grounds. The Claimant had no real prospect of succeeding on the claim due to the Judge holding that the construction of the Agency Agreement was a straightforward matter – the introduction had been made after a 12 month period in which the Agreement operated, such that no commission was payable.
The principle is however of general application - a further Statement of Case would have been permissible, and it would have been in accordance with the overriding objective, to permit it to be filed/served late.
The Judge had in mind the fact that there was no trial timetable being jeopardised by the late filing. He pointed out that there was no scheduled trial date which was put at risk. The only thing that had happened since the stay was lifted was the application for Summary Judgment being made.
It would therefore appear to be a narrow set of facts on which relief would be granted to a party this long after the original deadline for the Statement of Case – where a trial date was not put at risk, and where severe injustice would result to the party against whom relief from sanctions were to be refused.