The litigation process can, to a non-lawyer, appear to be a maze of procedural rules replete with traps for the unwary. In one case, a woman’s claim against a builder went wrong almost from the start when she failed to pay a court fee on time.
Following a trial, the builder, who had worked on her property, was ordered to pay the woman £10,920 in damages. His appeal against that decision was, however, subsequently upheld by a judge on the basis that the woman’s delay in paying a £545 trial fee had resulted in her claim being automatically struck out.
Ruling on her challenge to that outcome, the Court of Appeal agreed with the judge that the striking out of her claim was the automatic consequence of her failure to pay the fee within the time permitted by the relevant procedural rule. In upholding her appeal, however, the Court had no hesitation in ruling that her claim should be retrospectively reinstated and the damages award confirmed.
The failure to pay the fee on time was inadvertent. She had in fact paid it prior to the trial of her claim and the procedural lapse had not disrupted the orderly conduct of the litigation. Judgment having been given in her favour on the merits, the Court found that it would be grossly disproportionate to invalidate the trial.
Such a course would waste costs and put strain on the legal system’s already overstretched time and resources. The builder had not identified any particular prejudice that he had suffered due to the fee’s late payment and his objection based on the delay was wholly opportunistic. A further claim brought by the woman against the builder in respect of a second property was also reinstated.