The Dickensian days of justice moving at a glacial pace are thankfully behind us. In one case, however, the Court of Appeal had to consider the consequences of a delay of almost three years in a judge giving his ruling on a debt recovery claim.
Following a 14-day trial, a bank succeeded in its claim against a company to which it had advanced a series of loans that were repayable on demand. The bank’s claim under a guarantee against one of the company’s directors was also upheld. The bank was awarded the Japanese yen equivalent of almost £2 million.
In challenging that outcome, the company and the director pointed out that, after the conclusion of the trial, there was a delay of 34 months in the judge delivering his decision. They argued, amongst other things, that that delay itself amounted to serious irregularity which rendered the decision against them unjust.
The Court noted that the inordinate and inexcusable delay amounted to a serious dereliction of the judge’s duty to give his ruling in a timely manner. Following an investigation by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice found that the delay was unacceptable and that the judge’s behaviour amounted to misconduct, having fallen below the standards to be expected of the judiciary. The judge was issued with formal advice.
Dismissing the appeal, however, the Court noted that its function was to do justice between the parties, not to sanction the judge. Inordinate and inexcusable delay was not, by itself, a ground for allowing the appeal. Given his access to a large volume of documents and a full transcript of the trial, it was not suggested that the judge’s recollection of the evidence had been impaired by the delay.
The judge’s decision, which ran to 300 paragraphs and 141 pages, on the face of it contained a very careful and detailed consideration of the issues. Arguments that he failed to properly analyse the evidence and was one-sided in his assessment of the witnesses were rejected. Overall, there was no reason to doubt his conclusions, which the Court was convinced were correct.