Sanders v Percy & Ministry of Justice (No 2)
Reference: Unreported, 12 May 2010
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Master Leslie
Date of judgment: 12 May 2010
Summary: Defamation - Slander - Delay - Strike out - Unless order - Relief from sanction - CPR r.3.9
Christina Michalos QC (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Claimant in person; Treasury Solicitors for the Defendants
The Claimant brought proceedings against a Court Officer of a County Court and against the Ministry of Justice for slander, harassment and breach of confidence. The alleged slander arose out of a telephone conversation between the Court Officer and the Claimant’s solicitor in unrelated proceedings. There were a number of allegations complained of including that the Claimant was vexatious, the majority of which had been struck out. In respect of the remaining claims (including a claim for slander in respect of an allegation that the Claimant was a benefit fraudster), the Defendants relied on the defence of qualified privilege, amongst others.
The telephone conversation alleged to be slanderous took place in January 2006 and the Claimant issued proceedings 3 days before the limitation period expired in January 2007. Over a considerable period of time, he had repeatedly asked for extensions for deadlines for different matters. This culminated in an unless order in respect of service of his Reply which required service by 4pm on 15th January 2010 otherwise the case would be struck out. The Claimant served an unsigned version by email at 4.22pm and the signed page by fax at 5.08pm. By virtue of CPR 6.26, deemed service was on 18th January 2010.
The Defendants contended that the claim had been struck out pursuant to the unless order and that the Claimant did not satisfy the criteria for relief from sanction under CPR 3.9. The Claimant applied for relief from sanction under CPR 3.9.
Whether the Claimant should be granted relief from sanction, namely the striking out of his claim for failure to serve his Reply by the deadline stated in the unless order.
Refusing relief from sanction and declaring that the case had been struck out pursuant to the unless order:
Defamation cases are required to be dealt with promptly and quickly as it is assumed the Claimant wishes to vindicate his reputation. This was an example of a case that had continued for far too long with repeated delays. It was now 4 years since publication. The Court strives to have cases heard within 18 months to 2 years of publication and it was now 2 years after the appropriate time.
Applying the criteria in CPR r.3.9: it was in the interests of justice for Court Orders to be obeyed; the application for relief had not been made promptly; the failure was unintentional and there was a good explanation; the failure to comply was caused by the Claimant himself; the proper trial date had long since passed; there was little or no prejudice to the Defendants.
In considering all the circumstances of the case, the claim must be struck out. The Claimant had repeatedly breached the rules and the breach of the unless order was in the face of a warning from a High Court Judge that timetables must be adhered to otherwise he was at risk of his claim being struck out.
Claimants in defamation claims need to remember that the limitation period is one year for a specific reason – namely the need to vindicate their reputation swiftly. Those who repeatedly delay in meeting deadlines run the risk that ultimately a Court will take a decision to refuse further extensions or relief from sanction – which may result in the loss of the entire claim.