the professional negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Shooting Admiral Byng

Admiral Byng was held responsible for the loss of Minorca in 1756. He was relieved of his command, court martialled and shot by a firing squad. Voltaire remarked of the decision to shoot him that it was beneficial to kill an Admiral from time to time “pour encourager les autres”. Although Hildyard J. made reference to Admiral Byng in his judgment in the case of Caliendo v Mishcon de Reya [2014] EWHC 3414 he was not prepared metaphorically to shoot the Claimant’s solicitors, DLA Piper LLP, to encourage the rest of us.

DLA were 3 ½ months late in serving notice on the defendant of the existence of a CFA and an ATE policy in a professional negligence claim. They made an application for relief from sanctions at the time of service of proceedings and admitted that they had no good reason for their failure.

The judge accepted the serious effect of the ATE/CFA funding arrangements but considered that what mattered for the first limb of the Denton test was the seriousness and significance of late notification. He held that the defendant had not been able to show ‘material prejudice’. This seems a slightly different test from whether or not the breach was ‘serious and significant’ - a failure to pay court fees was given as an example in Denton of a breach which is serious and significant but it cannot be said to cause ‘material prejudice’ to the other party.

The judge’s application of the third limb of the Denton test (evaluation all the circumstances of the case so as to deal justly with the case) was interesting. When dealing with the impact on other court users, the judge was keen to emphasise that he was not aware of any specific detriment to court users such as in Mitchell where the adjournment of the cost budget hearing caused an adjournment and the vacating of an asbestosis claim. It is submitted that the test of the impact on other court users has always been difficult – on the one hand information of a specific detriment is rarely likely to be available outside, perhaps, the masters’ corridor but, on the other hand, without such specific detriment the courts and parties will often be merely speculating.

The judge did not consider it would be just to withhold relief from sanction. Whereas Denton undoubtedly softened the Mitchell regime, judgments such as this are taking us closer still to the original relief from sanctions test which focused on the requirements of justice – too late to save some of the Admiral Byngs of the past year.

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