The High Court has given the personal representatives of deceased steelworkers more time to register their compensation claims under a group litigation order (GLO).
Mr Justice Turner said he agreed with the claimants’ arguments that “the fact that one claim is a nullity does not preclude the commencement of a subsequent claim which is not”.
The claimants accepted that “there may be circumstances in which such subsequent claim could be struck out as an abuse of the process of the court” but “unless and until this happens the second claim is procedurally valid”.
Turner J said: “I agree. Otherwise, to take an extreme example, where an action was commenced on behalf of a claimant who had, unbeknown, died on the previous day, it would be an extraordinary suggestion that his estate was thereby precluded from starting a fresh action properly constituted thereafter.”
The judge said the court had a discretion to extend the time within which claims could be entered on the GLO register.
Delivering judgment in the Personal Representatives of Hutson and others v Tata Steel UK  EWHC 143 (QB), Turner J said the claimants sought compensation for injuries, loss and damage sustained in the steel industry as a result of inhaling harmful dust and fumes.
The judge said a condition for registration with the GLO was that those seeking to bring claims in respect of deceased employees should first have obtained grants of probate or letters of administration.
He said the cut-off date for registering claims, originally set for September 2018 had been extended to November 2018. However, a number of claims had still not been entered because grants of probate had not been obtained.
Turning to the first group of 12 claims, he said: “It is certainly the case that delays in most if not all of these cases could have been avoided and the extended deadline could have been complied with but for lack of progress caused, at least in part, by tardiness on the part of the individual claimants and/or their legal advisors.
“Nevertheless, even in those instances in which the length of the delays have been the longest and the reasons given the least satisfactory, I am entirely satisfied that the correct approach is to permit them to proceed.”
Turning to the second group of eight claims, Turner J said five of them were registered before grants of probate were obtained, but since formalities were completed before the original cut-off date, the defendant conceded that the relevant extension of time should be granted.
The judge said this left three cases where claim had been entered on the register but probate formalities were still not completed when the cut-off date expired.
The defendant argued that since the court’s “indulgence” was being sought after the time for compliance had passed, the “same level of stringency” should be applied as if the case fell within the tests laid down by Denton.
Without deciding the issue, Turner J said he would approach the application as if it were an application for relief from sanctions.
The judge said in each of the three claims, the defendants conceded that “their defaults were serious and significant”.
He went on: “The reasons for the defaults in each case involve culpable oversight. I give particular weight to these factors.
“Nevertheless, I am satisfied that these breaches have not prevented to any significant degree the court or the parties from conducting these claims or the litigation as a whole efficiently and at proportionate cost. This is not a case in which there has been a history of non-compliance.”
Turner J said the factors which persuaded him to “grant an indulgence” for the first group of claims, applied “with similar (and, ultimately, decisive) force to the application of the third Denton test relating to all the circumstances of the case” regarding the second group.
He ruled that further time should also be granted for the second group of claims to be registered on the GLO register.