Litigator's View

Giles Ward on the effect of the new Criminal Procedure Rules. Giles Ward is a partner at Nelson & Co in Leeds.

The recent case of Crowther v Ramsey shows courts are affording little leniency to solicitors, expecting their clients to pursue professional negligence claims against them.

The case concerned an appeal by the claimant's solicitors to set aside judgment in a small claims hearing.

The defendant and claimant were involved in a road accident in which liability was disputed.

The matter was listed in April for arbitration on 9 June 1999. At a late stage the parties agreed to consent to apply for an adjournment.

The application to adjourn did not come before the district judge until the morning of the hearing.

The judge refused to rubber-stamp the proposal and, an hour-and-a-half before the hearing, requested the parties attending make representations to her.

The claimant's solicitors appointed an agent to attend and the defendant's solicitors attended personally with the defendant and a witness. The claimant had earlier been told by his solicitors that he was not to attend, and was not contacted further.

The judge found that as the hearing was to take place under the new rules it should not have been assumed that the consent order would be accepted.

The judge found that the fact that the claimant failed to attend because his solicitors had told him not to was not a good reason for not attending, under the Criminal Procedure Rules (CPR) 27.11. The appeal was dismissed.

One may question whether the overriding objectives of the CPR were met in this case. Could it be said that this case was dealt with justly? How was expense saved when the district judge's decision led to incurring costs for an appeal and a probable claim for professional negligence?

In my view the case was justly dealt with – the judge made a decision at the appointed hearing on the basis of the evidence put before her.

Any complaint the claimant has should rightly be against the solicitors for not presenting the case satisfactorily.

As for the argument that such a decision incurs unnecessary costs, I would argue such costs are necessary to drive home the fact that wasting court time will no longer be tolerated.