The High Court has overturned a decision to refuse leniency to a defendant in a case that will be hailed as a further indication of judges taking a softer approach to compliance with Jackson civil litigation procedures.
Sir David Eady (pictured) allowed the appeal after a district judge had refused the defendant permission to amend his defence following an RTA in 2009.
Eady referenced cases Mitchell and Durrant, both of which saw the court refuse relief from sanctions for parties that had failed to comply with court rules and set down a hardline approach following last year’s Jackson reforms.
But the judge said in this case, Groarke v Fontaine, the court was able to be flexible given that a changing defence wasted no court resources and inconvenienced no other court users.
In what will be interpreted by some as a sign of the court taking a less strict approach to procedures, Eady said the interests of fairness and justice do not need to be ‘compromised merely for the sake of discipline or the marking of disapproval’.
He said the district judge, while doing his best to apply relevant principles seen in post-Jackson cases, ‘in examining the trees he ultimately failed to see the wood’.
Eady added: ‘I believe that justice and fairness required that the amendment should have been allowed so that the ‘real dispute’ between the parties could be adjudicated upon.’
The district judge’s decision meant the defendant would lose the opportunity of reducing the scale of his liability by an appropriate percentage.
Proceedings were issued in July 2012, with a defence the following month submitted that denied responsibility, saying the claimant caused the traffic collision.
After directions were given for the filing of lists by February 2013 and service of lay witness evidence by April 2013, the defendant’s solicitors sought to change his defence last November, with contributory negligence formally pleaded by way of an amendment.