Our client (C Ltd), was a building subcontractor which was offered a new contract by a regular employer. The works involved the building of an extension to a private house owned by Mr A. Initially the works proceeded without too many problems. Shortly before Christmas 2018, however, the employer suspended the project and ordered all subcontractors to stop work.
The extension was not weatherproofed and Mr A was not happy about leaving it unfinished over Christmas. Mr A agreed a new contract for C Ltd to complete the works for a fixed sum of money. C Ltd and continued with the project. The total value of the contract between Mr A and C Ltd was approximately £25,000.
As the works were nearing completion, Mr A refused to pay C Ltd’s invoices. He wanted to carry out a full assessment and re-measure of works to determine what they were actually worth. C Ltd believed that the contract had been for a fixed sum and that Mr A was not entitled to dispute the value once the works were complete.
C Ltd initially tried to negotiate with Mr A but were unable to reach an agreement. Mr A was not willing to pay more than £7,000 and would not even pay this until C Ltd carried out some further works on site. C Ltd approached us for assistance in resolving the dispute.
What we did to help
We initially attempted to negotiate with Mr A but were unable to persuade him to increase his offer to a sum acceptable to C Ltd.
C Ltd considered that it had no choice but to take Mr A to court and instructed us to issue proceedings. C Ltd issued a claim for the full value of its contract, which was allocated to the Fast Track.
Mr A did not instruct lawyers to represent him and acted as a litigant in person throughout the case. As the case progressed, we noticed that Mr A was repeatedly failing to file necessary information with the court to support his defence. Although he did file a defence, he did not disclose the documents that he was hoping to rely on, or file a proper witness statement.
This is a relatively common mistake among litigants in person who are not familiar with the court process. It is not sufficient just to turn up at court on the day and argue your case: you have to supply your evidence and the arguments you are going to use in advance, in accordance
with a timetable supplied by the court. If this is not supplied on time, the court may refuse to consider it, even if it is critically important to the case as a whole.
We wrote to Mr A on a number of occasions to inform or remind him of this. Eventually we applied to the court, asking it to strike out Mr A’s defence and to give summary judgement for our client.
Outcome of the case
The summary judgement application was heard on the same day as the trial, before evidence on the substance of the matter was considered. The judge recognised that Mr A was a litigant in person, but was generally unsympathetic to Mr A’s situation, on the basis that he should have engaged with the process better, and we had reminded him to do so.
The judge retired for a few minutes to consider the outcome and suggested that the parties discuss a potential resolution in the meantime. Mr A recognised at this point that he had very little chance of success in the trial. We agreed with him that he would pay C Ltd 90% of the value of the claim, plus its reasonable legal costs. These costs would be assessed by the judge.
The judge approved the settlement and awarded C Ltd all its costs of the main action, and 80% of its costs of the strike-out application.
Our client had a strong case, but the decisive factor was in conduct of the litigation. Because we were acting for C Ltd, it complied fully with the court directions and was able to present its case in the best way possible. By contrast, Mr A did not engage lawyers and appeared not to fully understand, or appreciate the importance of, the court directions. When it finally came before a judge, this meant that he was unable to defend C Ltd’s case effectively.
Although he finally agreed settlement with C Ltd rather than having judgement entered against him, he ended up paying C Ltd roughly the same amount as if the case had been heard in full and he had lost.
This case highlights the importance of complying with the Civil Procedure Rules and the directions of the court. This is not always easy, especially outside the Small Claims Track.
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