A High Court judge has refused to grant relief from sanctions to a law firm which “deliberately decided not to comply” with a practice direction and unless order in an appeal against a finding of negligence.
Essex firm Davis Solicitors had already lost a claim for unpaid fees and been ordered to pay former clients over £21,000. The firm’s appeal was struck out on the grounds that it failed to lodge an appeal bundle.
Ruling on an appeal rejecting an initial application for relief from sanctions, Mr Justice Supperstone said the position of sole principal Nancy Ballard, who represented the firm in court, was that she “considered it unnecessary to file an appeal bundle”, while accepting that she was in breach of the relevant practice direction.
The judge said that “the reason she made no attempt to correct the breach or even to serve an appeal bundle” was because “she did not think that filing an appeal bundle would assist”.
Supperstone J went on: “She thought, she says, that what was important was to make an application for relief from sanctions as promptly as possible. She stated that she thought it was only necessary to have an appeal bundle once permission has been granted.
“She did not appear to appreciate the need for applications for permission to appeal to be presented in accordance with the rules so as to ensure the effective management of the appeal process at the permission stage.”
The High Court heard in Davis Solicitors v Raja and another  EWHC 519 (QB) that the firm had acted for Fida Raja and Hande Riaz “with regard to the disrepair of a boiler”.
Ms Ballard later sued her clients over an unpaid invoice for £2,970 plus interest and costs. The defendants counterclaimed for consequential losses and negligence.
Giving judgment in favour of the defendants, Deputy District Judge Parker said it was “difficult to conceive of a worse case in relation to poor service”, the work carried out by Ms Ballard was “shoddy” and “above all” she had been negligent.
Ms Ballard appealed. Her appeal was struck out by Judge Wulwik on the grounds of failure to lodge an appeal bundle, in accordance with CPR PD 52B.6 and an unless order.
She applied for relief from sanctions, but her appeal was dismissed by Judge Mitchell at Central London County Court. Ms Ballard appealed to the High Court.
She argued that failure to file the appeal bundle was not a “significant breach” of PD 52B because all relevant documents had been served on the defendants and she had complied in “every other respect”.
Rejecting this argument Mr Justice Supperstone said that not only did Ms Ballard fail to comply with the practice direction, she ignored the unless order.
Supperstone J concluded: “The fact is that Ms Ballard had deliberately decided not to comply with the practice direction and the unless order because she considered that what she had done in terms of filing and serving documents for the appeal was sufficient.”