Defamation firm Carter-Ruck ‘mucked up’ by failing to file a defence in time, leading to a default judgment in a high-profile case, a judge has observed.  

Master Cook was hearing an application by Hollywood star Kevin Spacey for relief from sanctions over a default judgment handed down earlier this year after Carter-Ruck missed a deadline.

Carter-Ruck successfully sought a stay of civil proceedings against Spacey while a criminal trial was going ahead. The order imposed a three month stay after the resolution of criminal proceedings with a defence filed 14 days after that.

The actor was acquitted of all charges against him on 26 July 2023 when ‘the clock started to run’. The stay was automatically lifted on 27 October 2023 with the defence due on 9 November.

Kevin Spacey

Master Cook was hearing an application by Spacey (pictured) for relief from sanctions

Source: James Veysey/Shutterstock

‘The defendant solicitors did not however file a defence,’ the judge said.

The claimant, who cannot be named, filed a request for judgment by default three months later ‘as they were entitled to do’. It was granted.

During the application hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice this week, Master Cook said he found Carter-Ruck partner Nigel Tait’s witness statement ‘a little aggressive’, adding that Tait ‘does not seem to accept the blame’.

He said: ‘Where a solicitor, in the vernacular, mucks up I would accept a full acceptance of that fact and, really, to go on the attack as he has done here looking for holes and loops is really to be deprecated.’

The judge described the issue set out by Tait in his witness statement, of the claimant not following proper procedure for default judgment by not including Spacey’s date of birth, as a ‘thoroughly bad point’. The judge said ‘the point’ of a defendant’s date of birth being included was ‘the John Smith problem’ and helped differentiate who the defendant was. ‘It does not seem to me to be the best point to put forward in a situation where the solicitors have, quite frankly, mucked up,’ the judge said.

Ruling on the application, he said: ‘The application [for stay] was made by the defendant in relation to an event where the date [of the end of criminal proceedings] was not known. The defendant solicitor would be in the best place to know that date. They themselves requested 14 days to file thereafter. There is no excuse for the date being overlooked.

‘Failing to file a defence when you yourself provided the date for filing, it is serious and significant,' the judge said. 'There is no good reason the solicitors have failed to do that which they should have done.' He made an order setting aside the judgment. 

The civil claim against Spacey will be listed for a six-day trial.

Following the hearing, Claire Glasgow of Fieldfisher, who is representing the claimant, said: ‘We are pleased that the judge recognised the seriousness of the claim and directed the court to proceed to trial. Our client is seeking justice in the civil courts for serious allegations against Mr Spacey, regardless of the findings of the criminal trial.’

A spokesperson for Carter-Ruck said: ‘At the hearing, default judgment was set aside, allowing Mr Spacey the opportunity to defend these allegations, made by one of the complainants in the criminal proceedings last year in which Mr Spacey was acquitted.

‘The failure to file the defence on time following the stay, put in place because of those criminal proceedings, was a regrettable oversight and the matter will now proceed to a contested trial, which is in the interests of justice for our client who denies the allegations.’


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