High Court judge Mr Justice Fraser has warned of ‘draconian’ costs penalties should two parties in litigation continue to refuse to cooperate.
He said both sides in Bates & Ors v Post Office Ltd had rebuffed efforts to manage the case in a cost-effective and efficient way.
The case involves sub-post masters pursuing action against the Post Office. The claimant group is seeking damages related to the introduction of an electronic system around 17 years ago, which allegedly caused financial distress and in some cases bankruptcy.
Some of the issues reported during the litigation included:
- Failing to respond to directions for two months
- Failing to even consider e-disclosure questionnaires
- Failing to lodge required documents with the court
- Refusing to disclose obviously relevant documents
- Threatening ‘pointless’ interlocutory skirmishes.
At the case management conference, the claimants sought a substantive hearing for October 2018, while the defendants argued the case could be managed for another entire year without any substantive hearing being fixed. Under this proposal, the hearing would not happen until at least 2019.
The day after trial was ordered for November 2018, leading counsel for the defendant wrote to ask that it be moved as he already had a hearing at the Companies Court. The judge suggested it was a ‘clear case of the tail wagging the dog’ if barristers’ clerks were allowed to dictate hearing dates, and he said there was reasonable notice to arrange for a replacement counsel.
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