Service of Papers During Lockdown
A solicitor acting for a claimant served particulars of claim on 25 March (i.e. two days after lockdown) at an empty and closed office knowing that the defendant had to acknowledge service by 9 April.
The High Court judge granted the defendant relief from sanctions and overturned a decision to grant judgment against the defendant in default, giving permission to the defendant to file and serve an acknowledgement of service and defence within 14 days.
The judge criticized the claimant’s solicitor, saying he had exercised ‘poor judgement’, and found that the defendant would have responded in time in normal circumstances and moved promptly to act once it was aware of the claim.
The court’s view was that the solicitor had not unscrupulously taken advantage of the situation but was at fault for not checking whether service by post was still possible and feasible.
The judge said: "A moment’s thought on his part would have shown that it was not fair or reasonable for him simply to place papers in the post to an office that he knew or should have known had been closed down two days before because of a national emergency.
"I am bound to have regard to CPR PD 51ZA (Extension of time limits and clarification of Practice Direction 51Y – coronavirus), which provides at : 'In so far as compatible with the proper administration of justice, the court will take into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic when considering applications for the extension of time for compliance with directions, the adjournment of hearings, and applications for relief from sanctions'."