High Court grants overworked law firm relief from sanctions


RCJ

Warby J: too much work “is no excuse”

A High Court judge has granted relief from sanctions, after a law firm blamed pressure of work for late service of evidence in a Russian libel case.

Despite the absence of a good reason for the breach, Mr Justice Warby said: “Compliance is not an end in itself. A more nuanced approach is required.”

Warby J said an important point clarified by the ruling in Denton was that “a serious default for which there was no good reason would not always lead to the refusal of relief from sanctions”.

The court heard that the claimant’s solicitors, West End firm Hamlins, had served evidence on the defendants three to four hours after the deadline in a Russian libel dispute in which the claimant was accused of fabricating evidence, conspiracy to murder, and bribery and corruption.

Warby J described as “straightforward, but unimpressive” the reasons put forward by the claimant’s counsel for the breach.

“In short, a combination of late finalisation, mistakenly prioritising the filing of papers with the court over service on the defendant, and oversight due to other work.”

Warby J said counsel for the claimant was right to accept that “it is no excuse that the solicitors had too much work on” and “no good reason” was provided for the breach.

However, he said the claimant should be granted relief from sanctions on the grounds, as the court observed in Denton, that there were “degrees of seriousness”.

Delivering judgment in Sloutsker v Romanova [2015] EWHC 545 (QB), the judge described the breach as “far from being at the extreme end of the scale” and said it was not deliberate.

“Apart from necessitating the application for relief – the costs of which will inevitably be borne by the claimant – the breach has not had any or any serious effects on the efficient progress or the cost of this litigation, or any other litigation.”

Concluding on the relief from sanctions point, Mr Justice Warby said the claimant should be relieved from sanctions for serving evidence “some four working hours late”.

The allegations complained of in the case concerned Alexei Kozlov, a former business associate of the claimant, Vladimir Sloutsker. The defendant, Olga Romanova, is a journalist and Mr Kozlov’s wife. She made the allegations in a blog post, many of which were republished on a variety of Russian websites.

Warby J estimated that the online articles “reached as many as 60,000 readers in this jurisdiction”, while a radio programme was probably heard by several thousand more.

He concluded that the claim involved a “real and substantial tort” in this jurisdiction, and England was “clearly the appropriate place in which to try the claim”.

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