High Court rejects Solicitor’s application for relief for failure to serve claim form on time

The High Court has dismissed a law firm’s application for relief for failing to serve a claim form in a £683,000 case on time.

In a case of professional negligence, the High court dismissed a solicitors firm’s application for relief based on the grounds that a trainee solicitor at firm Ashfords failed to provide timely service of a claim form, after the required deadline by 10 September 2020. Despite being given an extension due to the difficulties caused by the pandemic, the firm’s trainee solicitor, who was representing Boxwood at that time sent an email to the defendant’s solicitors and failed to enclose the claim form that was required pursuant to the contractual claim worth £683,000.

Four days later, Ashfords acknowledged the error and re-sent the following documents by correctly attaching the form. In Ashford’s defence, the firm highlighted the lateness of submission as a result the unprecedented time of working from home during a pandemic. Ashfords subsequently claimed that the incumbent mistake could have been avoided had the event been properly diarised and regular internal communication during office absence.

However, the defendant’s solicitors Systech argued for a nullity on the grounds that no claim form was submitted on time. In this instance, Mrs Justice O’Farrell ruled that Boxwood could not establish all reasonable steps were taken to serve the claim form on a timely matter within the extension ordered by the court. Therefore, without the lack of power to extend the time for service, the judge deemed Gleeson could potentially suffer prejudice if the court granted remedy for the error.

The implications of leaving service of a claim form until the last minute

Justice Nicklin in Piepenbrock v ANL [2020] reiterated that it is very “unwise” for any Claimant to adopt a non-engagement approach, which as in this case, can cause your claim to be dismissed. Justice Nicklin also noted that, as long as defendants do nothing to mislead or obstruct, they can hardly be criticised if they decided to follow Napoleon’s advice ‘not to interrupt an enemy when they were making a mistake’, thereby restating the argument from Woodward -v- Phoenix healthcare Distribution Ltd [2019] EWCA Civ  985[44-47] (which Lexlaw were instructed on) that there is no duty on a defendant to warn a claimant about failure to validly serve a Claim Form.

This judgment serves as a stark reminder, to both litigants in person and solicitors alike, that strict adherence to the CPR is vital and the consequences of failing to do so can be fatal to any litigation, which is why you should instruct specialist litigation solicitors. Had the Claimant done so in this matter and the solicitor then failed to serve the Claim Form, there would be strong grounds for a professional negligence case which would enable him to seek damages from them (other common examples of solicitor negligence can be read below).

How were the solicitors negligent in this case?

In this proceeding, it was clear that Ashfords breached a duty of care towards Gleeson on the grounds of failure to satisfy a contractual duty and compliance with a court deadline. Given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, the court had already granted an extension of time by factoring any possible disruptions. Despite this, the late submission of the claim form inevitably incurred financial losses as a direct result of mismanagement.

You can read the full judgment here.

Common Examples of Solicitor Negligence:

  • Failing to provide correct legal advice
  • Failing to fully investigate or properly evidence the claim
  • Failing to fully warn the client on the risks
  • Missing a limitation date leading to a claim becoming time-barred
  • Failing to comply with a court order or deadline
  • Poor performance of instructions

My solicitor has been negligent

A solicitor must hold a greater professional standard of care in servicing their client’s affairs however solicitors on occasion fail to act in their client’s best interest.  As a matter of conduct, solicitors are highly regulated and owe their clients a contractual, statutory and tortious duty of care. The last thing you expect when you hire a professional is for them to be negligent.

Professional negligence claims against members of the legal profession tend to be complex in nature and argument. Professional indemnity insurers will often instruct a specialist City of London law firm to defend claims vigorously, thus it is essential to take legal advice at the outset from our expert professional negligence team.

We understand as lawyers where solicitors go wrong and where solicitors have failed to act upon their client’s instructions.

Instruct Specialist Professional Negligence Solicitors

We are a specialist City of London law firm made up of Solicitors & Barristers operating from the only law firm based in the Middle Temple Inn of Court adjacent to the Royal Courts of Justice. The firm is made up of exceptional lawyers who are practising solicitors and barristers supported by high quality paralegals, legal apprentices and other legal support staff. We regularly work in conjunction with leading Queen’s Counsel and junior barristers from chambers predominantly in London near to our own chambers in Middle Temple.

Our team can provide the best expertise in advising on claims for compensation against professionals that have fallen below the standard expected, which causes clients financial or personal losses. We are experienced in bringing you successful claims against negligent solicitors, barristers, financial advisors, surveyors, valuers, architects, tax advisors and IFAs.

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