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Austin v Newcastle Chronicle, Court of Appeal

29 May 2001
The issues

Errors In Particulars Of Claim – Extension Of Time – Proceedings To Amend

The facts

The Claimant brought action for defamation against Defendant. The libel had been published on 28th February 1999. Letter before action was sent on 10th February 2000 shortly before the end of limitation. Proceedings were issued on 25th February 2000 and served upon Defendant on 28th February 2000.

In March 2000 Defendant’s solicitors told Claimant solicitors that the Defendant was the wrong person, being neither the editor, author or publisher of the article. They invited an amendment and agreed that they would reply to the proceedings upon amendment. The amendments were made in May 2000 but a further error occurred being the fault of the Defendant’s solicitors. In May and June the error was pointed out to the Claimant’s solicitors who finally in June acknowledge their mistake and wrote requesting a further extension of time in which to serve a corrected Claim Form and Particulars of Claim. That period expired on 26th June 2000. On 21st July 2000 the Claimant’s solicitors served an amended Claim Form and Particulars of Claim and on 27th July the Defendant’s solicitors wrote telling the Claimant’s solicitors that they were unable to accept service of documents now purported to be served out of time. A Notice to Amend was filed on 10th August 2000.

The matter eventually went to the Judge who dismissed the action against the Defendant. The Claimant appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The decision

The Claimant had attempted to amend in May 2000 but the wrong papers were sent. The Defendant was fully aware of the claim from as early as February 2000. The factors that needed to be considered in deciding whether or not the case should be struck out were the relevance of the action, the prejudice to the Claimant and the need to have the case tried quickly. The need for a quick resolution was particularly important in defamation cases. There was no doubt that the delay in bringing the case prevented the Claimant from vindicating his character and that the delay offended the proper administration of justice. That delay coupled with errors by the Claimant’s solicitors should not have prevented the Claimant from pursuing his claim.

Appeal allowed

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