8 April 2010
Before the recent Civil Justice Reform (CJR), it was much easier to join a party as a defendant to an action. In this case, the Plaintiff sought to join a party as an additional defendant two weeks before it was to be warned for trial. The Court refused the application in accordance with the spirit of the CJR.
The action proceeded in a normal manner and there had been two Checklist Reviews scheduled before the matter was to be set down for trial. Pursuant to the new Practice Direction 18.1, both parties filed their respective Questionnaires before each Checklist Review. On each occasion, the Plaintiff's handling solicitor confirmed in her Questionnaire that "the Plaintiff did not intend to add any party to the proceedings". Indeed, the Plaintiff's solicitors went further by filing a Consent Summons with the Defendant's solicitors and sought for the case be set down for trial. The matter was set down to be warned for trial not before a specified date.
Two weeks before that date, the Plaintiff's solicitors took out an application for leave to add another party as the 2nd Defendant. This was the first time the Plaintiff indicated an intention to add a 2nd Defendant despite the fact that her solicitors were aware of the party's identity and alleged responsibility 10 months beforehand.
The Plaintiff's handling solicitor confirmed at the hearing that she had explained to the Plaintiff the effects of the CJR. Given the two Questionnaires filed by the Plaintiff's solicitors made it clear that the Plaintiff did not intend to add any other party, the Plaintiff was effectively bound by that response.
The presiding Master took the view that she was under a duty to administer justice to all parties, and not just to the Plaintiff.
Given the Plaintiff had been given ample time and opportunity to add a 2nd Defendant and she did not do so, the learned Master considered the Defendant should not be prejudiced by the Plaintiff's delay. In particular the case was ready for trial, so granting the application would undoubtedly result in delay and embarrassment to the Defendant. The interests of all parties must be balanced and this should be the whole spirit of the CJR.
The Plaintiff's application was thus refused and costs were awarded against the Plaintiff.
The case reinforces the spirit and underlying objectives of the CJR. The ruling is a reminder to all litigants to take seriously the Questionnaire, as they may well be bound by their own answers. Rules and procedures of the Court must now be followed strictly and properly. The Court will not excuse any unreasonable delay and there is little hesitation in enforcing the rules and principles of the CJR regime. Litigants are advised to be well prepared in advance.
The approach by the Court in this case is welcome and it sends a clear signal that the Court will not tolerate "last minute surprises" without good reason. It illustrates that the Court now adopts a much harsher and stringent approach towards parties including plaintiffs who unduly delay proceedings and this decision augurs well for insurers.
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