The Claimant’s solicitors served a claim form 4 days late in a claim for £683,000. They had, four days earlier, sent an email to the Defendant’s solicitors purporting to serve the proceedings but attached all the relevant documents save for the Claim Form. The Claimant's Solicitors issued an application for relief from sanctions. The application failed.
The proceedings, started in 2020, arose as a result of a construction contract that had completed in 2008. The service of the documents took place during lockdown and was undertaken by a junior lawyer working remotely. Had this not taken place during lockdown, the Claimant argued, the documents would have been placed physically in front of a partner to be checked. The situation was made worse as there had already been an extension of time for service requested which the Defendants had refused.
The court refused relief from sanctions. Although the Judge accepted that working away from the office would reduce the oversight of more junior staff, it was still incumbent on the solicitors to ensure that the dates set for service were met. There were no grounds for allowing relief, applying all the principles of Denton v White (the leading case on such matters). Further, the court ruled it would have been wrong to deny the Defendants any accrued limitation defence.
Many have already warned that there could be a flurry of claims against professionals for errors committed during remote working when supervision is inherently more difficult without updated procedures and the appropriate IT systems. This is the proof of the pudding and more examples are likely to follow. With a large percentage of professionals expressing a strong preference for home working after lockdown is eased the “new normal” is going to require a re-think of supervisory systems.