Failing to meet the timetable imposed on court proceedings is very unwise, as a property owner has found out to his considerable cost.
He was involved in a long-running dispute with a builder over the value of work undertaken by a subcontractor with regard to fire damage to the man's Grade II listed property.
The property owner considered he was being overcharged for the work done and obtained a signed statement from the builder (alleged by him to have been obtained by duress) that he had overpaid by more than £200,000. In a case with a number of complexities, the principal issue was that the property owner claimed that the builder's work was grossly negligent.
When the builder sued for non-payment, the house owner responded with a very substantial counterclaim against him. This was made in fairly general terms, and was due to be amended and made in greater detail. Following delays in the preparation of the counterclaim, the Technology and Construction Court ordered that it had to be served by 20 March (a Friday). It was duly sent via email in the mid-afternoon of that day.
However, the email address of the Court was mistyped, with the result that it was not delivered.
Judge Edwards-Stuart ruled that the error was both 'serious and significant' and refused to allow the amended counterclaim to be accepted: the trial of the issues will therefore go ahead based on the original counterclaim. In the judge's view, it 'was not an isolated incident but was the culmination of a course of conduct that amounted to a continuing breach' of an earlier order.
In this case, by failing to adhere to the timetable set down by the Court, the homeowner has lost the right to pursue part of his claim because the Court lost patience with him over the delays he caused. The final mistake may have been trivial (the builder's solicitors received the amended counterclaim within the time limit) and the documentation would probably not have been looked at before the following Monday, but the amended counterclaim was nevertheless rejected.
This case has clear implications for anyone conducting a legal dispute, especially a dispute like this where the sums involved are substantial (as is common in building disputes) and the Court has set out a clear timetable.