The High Court has shown a further sign of lenience towards non-compliance by allowing a case to continue despite one litigant failing to turn up for a directions hearing.
Social housing provider Home Group Limited had seen possession proceedings against a tenant thrown out after failing to attend the hearing last April.
But Home Group was subsequently granted relief from sanctions by another judge and the claim was re-instated – a decision which was then appealed by the tenant Marie Matrejek.
Following a hearing in October, Mr Justice Sweeney said that relief should be allowed to stand as such case management decisions are ‘not lightly to be interfered with’.
The case threw up a test of the application of Civil Procedure Rules, with the first hearing coming after the strict Mitchell ruling and the second coming after the Denton judgment, which sought to clarify what was meant by Mitchell.
Home Group, instructed by its in-house legal team, had said it believed that all that was left to do in the possession claim was to fix the trial date, so decided not to attend the directions hearing. Sweeney said it had failed to tell the other party or the court that it would not attend, a breach he described as a ‘serious or significant default’, albeit not one at the ‘top end of the scale’.
But the court also heard the directions order had not clearly explained the nature of the hearing, which was to be linked to another matter involving the tenant and two of her children.
Sweeney said it was ‘laudable’ that Home Group had tried to obtain the tenant’s permission to vacate the hearing with a view to saving costs, and that the tenant herself did not understand the nature of the hearing. The judge said it was right to conclude the housing provider had ‘just about a reasonable excuse’.
He added: ‘This case provides a reminder of the advantage of the purpose of court orders (particularly those made in the absence of the parties) being made clear, of the need for parties to comply with court orders (however much they may have misgivings about them) whilst they still apply, and for all the known circumstances to be considered with care when imposing sanctions.’