An exasperated judge has gone to the lengths of specifying type size and line spacing in a final effort to slash an ‘impenetrable’ 55-page defence document.
Mr Edward Pepperall QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, said the defendant should slash the length of their submission by more than half if they wanted to avoid the defence being struck out.
In Brown & Anor v AB the judge even specified that the amended document be printed on A4 paper in not less than 11-point type and 1.5-line spacing, adding that ‘overall length is not to be achieved at the expense of legibility’.
Pepperall said: ‘A good draftsman can, in my experience both judicially and as a commercial barrister, plead even a very complex and high-value claim in no more than 25 pages.’
The claimants, founders and proprietors of a school for children with special educational needs, had issued proceedings against the mother of a pupil over what the court heard were ‘falsely and maliciously published statements’ about the treatment of the pupil.
The claim form was issued in June 2017 and the defence served a month later, but the case has stalled since with no date listed for a case management conference and no witness statements exchanged.
Lawyers for the claimants accepted that the application to strike out the amended defence was draconian, but argued that a fourth iteration should have been the ‘final bite of the cherry’.
Pepperall accepted the amended defence bore ‘no resemblance’ to a professionally prepared statement, having started with a three-page table of contents, ending with a three-page index and running to 319 paragraphs overall. But the judge said he was ‘far from persuaded’ that the defendant did not have an arguable case and said it would not be proportionate to enter judgment against her.
Giving her ‘one last opportunity’ to file a proper defence, he directed that the claimants would be at liberty to seek judgment for damages unless his criteria were met.
The claimants were represented by Graham Howard, instructed by HCB Solicitors Ltd. Robert Gamson, a solicitor, acted for the defendant with permission of the court.