The family court has renewed a stern message to litigants that it will not tolerate non-compliance with court orders.
The Honourable Mr Justice Keehan said practitioners must be made aware that poor practices pre-dating new Civil Procedure Rules should no longer be a feature of family litigation.
Keehan (pictured) made a wasted costs order in favour of a father seeking more contact with his children in the case of HU v SU.
The mother’s solicitor, from Berkshire firm Barrett & Thomson, had applied for an extension to her public funding in December and had to wait almost a month for it to be granted. In the meantime, the firm had decided that the mother’s statement and schedule of findings would be filed after police disclosure had been received.
According to the judgment, on 7 January, the firm sent a letter to the father’s solicitors setting out that an extension of public funding was still awaited and requesting a one-week extension to the 10 January deadline.
Crucially this letter did not set out that police disclosure had not yet been formally sought, and no communication was sent to the court.
The judge said he was not given a satisfactory explanation why the mother’s solicitor had not brought the delay in seeking police disclosure to the attention of the court or why no application had been made to extend time for compliance with court directions.
Keehan said: ‘The failure to seek the leave of the court to extend the time for compliance with the directions order is to be characterised as incompetence. Their actions… are redolent of past poor practices which should no longer feature in private or public law family proceedings.’
The mother’s legal team had recognised their ‘errors and oversights’ for which they apologised. They argued that the non-compliance did not clear the hurdle for a making a wasted costs order, particularly given the ‘considerable professional embarrassment’ which can result.
Keehan said the conduct of the mother’s solicitors was ‘so serious’ and it was ‘so inexcusable’ to find they had acted improperly and unreasonably, and he ordered them to compensate the father for the whole of the costs he incurred in the directions hearing.