A litigant-in-person has lost his claim for psychiatric injury against the Stobart Group and associated companies over his failure to serve a medical report.
Noting that the tide was “flowing strongly” towards a “less indulgent approach to non-compliance”, Lord Justice Tomlinson said the prejudice to the defendants was “far from trivial”.
Tomlinson LJ said the failure by former helicopter pilot Peter Elliott to file the report had “brought the proceedings to a halt”.
He went on: “Dealing justly with the application involves the interests of both parties being weighed in the balance. As the judge also observed, a considerable amount of court time has been devoted to the consequences of Mr Elliott’s failure to engage with the litigation process.”
The court heard in Elliott v Stobart Group and others  EWCA Civ 449 that Mr Elliott ceased working as a consultant for a holding company owned by Eddie Stobart Limited in 2007. The relationship ended in “acrimonious circumstances”.
Mr Elliott claimed that an injunction preventing him from publishing defamatory statements about William Tinkler, chief executive of the Stobart Group, and William Stobart, chief executive of Eddie Stobart Limited, caused him psychiatric harm and loss.
Acknowledging that it was a “draconian step” Judge Platts QC, sitting as a High Court judge in Manchester, struck out the claim after Mr Elliott failed to serve a medical report within the timetable set by an order of Judge Pelling.
Citing Lord Justice Moore-Bick’s judgment in Hysaj v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 1633, Tomlinson LJ said that a litigant-in-person’s inability to pay for legal representation could not be regarded as a good reason for delay, nor was it a good reason for failing to comply with the Civil Procedure Rules “or, I would add, court orders”.
Tomlinson LJ said Judge Platts had given “very careful consideration” to all of the circumstances involved.
“Inability to present for psychiatric examination was not made out and nor was inability to meet the cost of an independent report.”
Tomlinson LJ said Judge Platts found that Mr Elliott had “ignored the opportunity given to him” to apply in writing to vary the order on service of the expert report and had, in effect, simply “ignored the requirements imposed upon him” by that order.
“The judge was fully aware that a report had belatedly been produced and he gave little weight to the circumstance that it was incomplete. He was also fully aware of the draconian nature and effect of an order preventing Mr Elliott from pursuing his claim.”
Tomlinson LJ concluded: “In my judgment the conclusion which Judge Platts reached falls well within the range of reasonable decision making. It is not a conclusion to which no judge could reasonably have come.
“That is not to say that every judge would necessarily have come to the same conclusion, but that is not the test. The discretion was entrusted to Judge Platts and he exercised it in an exemplary manner and came to a permissible conclusion.”
Lord Justices Laws and McCombe agreed.