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Maguire v Molin, Court of Appeal

21 August 2002
The issues

District Judge – jurisdiction – Fast Track – amendments re-allocation

The facts

The Claimant started a claim for personal injuries following alleged Carbon Monoxide poisoning. The Claim had been allocated to the Fast Track. The Trial on liability had been fixed for the 11th October. The Trial began on that day. The District Judge who heard the Trial was told that the medical evidence was now out of date. He decided therefore to determine liability as a preliminary issue. However, one of the Defendant’s witnesses had a document put to him in cross-examination that had not been disclosed and the District Judge decided that the witness needed time to consider. Accordingly, he adjourned, resuming on the 7th December for the conclusion of a Trial on liability only. During the adjournment, further work was done on the value of the claim and the Claimant’s Solicitor decided to seek permission to amend. He sought it in person from the District Judge before the 7th December, but the District Judge decided to put the decision off until the Trial. The amendment increased the value of the claim to something in the order of £80,000.00.

At Trial, the District Judge refused the amendment, carried on with the Hearing and found for the Claimant on liability. The Claimant appealed to the Judge who dismissed the Appeal and thereafter to the Court of Appeal.

The decision

1. The Claimant had argued that the decision of the District Judge was wrong because amendments in general ought to be allowed, provided that the prejudice to the other party could be compensated for in costs (see Cobbold
-v- London Borough of Greenwich).

2. The Fast Track is the normal track for claims of value not exceeding £15,000.00. However, financial value is only one of the matters to which the Court should have regard.

3. The Judge had been wrong to say that the District Judge had only two courses open to him, namely to allow the Application, abort the Liability Hearing and re-allocate, or second, refuse the Application and continue with the Hearing. He also had jurisdiction to allow the amendment and to continue with the Hearing on the issue of liability on the Fast Track. The Rules relating to allocation were relevant to allocation “in the first place”. Whilst the claim was in the Fast Track, the District Judge had jurisdiction and it did not cease to be in the Fast Track, merely because its value had increased.

4. The question of re-allocation did not raise precisely the same issues as those which arose on allocation. All of the normal factors (financial value, nature of the remedy sought, likely complexity, number of parties, value of counterclaim or Part 20 Claim, the amount of oral evidence needed, importance of the claim to people not parties to the proceedings, views of the parties and circumstances of the parties) applied, but other factors needed to be taken into account as well, including the likelihood of disruption to the progress of the litigation. There was a balance. Where the amendment increased the value of the claim well beyond the value of the Fast Track, the value was likely to be a factor of great importance and would usually require a re-allocation. This was important, not merely because of the time allowed for a Fast Track claim, but also because of the limitation of costs on the Fast Track.

5. In this case, if the Judge had allowed the amendment, it would have made the claim of a different order from that originally presented. He had been entitled to take the view that if he had allowed the amendment, he should not have continued with the Trial but should have re-allocated to the Multi Track with a re-Hearing before a Circuit Judge. That would have been a proper exercise of his discretion, even though the decision to re-allocate would have caused considerable disruption to the progress of the litigation and though he had jurisdiction in those circumstances to continue with the Trial on liability.

6. It was important to note that the need for amendment arose not from unforeseeable events, but because Claimant’s Solicitors had failed to make a proper appraisal of the value of the claim in due time. Had the Defendant been aware of the value of the claim, it is reasonable to assume that he would have deployed more resources to his defence.

7. The District Judge was therefore entitled to take the view that the Application was too late and that the delays and additional costs of aborting the Trial on liability was such that in the interests of justice the amendment should be refused.

8. The Claimant’s Counsel had suggested that the problems could have been avoided by the District Judge continuing with the Trial on liability and dealing with the Application for permission to amend afterwards. However, to postpone dealing with the Application in this way would have been “an unacceptable artificial device”. A party who wishes to have a Direction varied must take steps to do so as soon as possible. To have “postponed” the decision, would have been entirely inconsistent with this principle.

Appeal dismissed.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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