County Court Money Claims Centre issued judgment for £10.5m

Big money: £10.5m claim lodged at county court

The County Court Money Claims Centre (CCMCC) issued a default judgment “without any judicial input” ordering a local authority to pay £10.5m, it has emerged.

Mr Justice Choudhury did not explain how this happened in setting the judgment aside.

The claim in MB v RBG [2020] EWHC 3022 (QB) arose from the claimant’s bid to be accommodated by the defendant local authority under its homelessness obligations. A litigant in person, he alleged bullying and harassment.

“The majority of these allegations are not particularised,” the judge noted. “The claim form asserts, without any basis whatsoever, that the value of the claim is £10.5m. Despite the size of the sum claimed, the claim form was lodged in the county court.”

The local authority filed its acknowledgement of service one day late and the CCMCC issued judgment for the claimant in default for failure to reply to the claim form, ordering the defendant to pay the £10.5m forthwith.

“I pause here to note that this action by the CCMCC appears to have been taken without any judicial input,” Choudhury J said.

Even though the acknowledgment of service was late, it had been filed by the time the CCMCC entered judgment. Therefore, pursuant to CPR 13.2, the court had no option but to set it aside, the judge said.

“Even if I had not been bound to set aside, I would have done so pursuant to the discretion afforded to the court under CPR 13.3 as the defendant plainly has a real prospect of successfully defending the claim. In fact… it is the claim that has no real prospect of success.”

There was, Choudhury J said, “no conceivable basis” on which the claimant could recover £10.5m from the defendant for any of the various acts alleged. “Seeking grossly inflated damages is itself an abuse of the court’s processes…

“I consider that the claimant’s application, whilst it may have had some rational basis from the perspective of a litigant in person, amounts to an abuse of process, and, as such, I certify it as being totally without merit.”

He also rejected the claimant’s application to commit a member of the council’s legal team for contempt of court – saying “this is about as far from a strong prima facie case of contempt as one could get” – and also certified as totally without merit an application for a freezing injunction to prevent the council from dissipating its assets and incurring any expenditure above £1m without seeking the claimant’s permission.

Choudhury J went to order an extended civil restraint order for the maximum two years.

He also questioned why Master Eastman had earlier in the proceedings acceded to the claimant’s request that the case and all the documents were to be private and that all hearings were to be held in private too.

Saying the master’s reasons were “not at all clear”, the judge said: “That strikes me as being quite an extraordinary order to make in circumstances where neither party can be described as vulnerable and there is no obvious reason why open justice should be overridden in this way.

“Certainly, the mere fact that the defendant had not objected to the claimant’s application, which appears to be part of the reason, would not suffice.

“However, the matter has remained confidential ever since and I do not set aside that order in the absence of some change of circumstances since it was made and because I have not heard from the claimant about it.”

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