Imagine if your electricity supplier invoiced you for £200,000 for the supply of electricity and you thought that you did not owe them anywhere near that amount, based on many and varied grounds.

You would want to be able to have your day in court and defend yourself wouldn’t you? The consequences if you didn’t get that opportunity could be catastrophic.

That very opportunity was denied to the Defendant however in a case at the Court of Appeal known as Oak Cash & Carry Limited v British Gas Trading Limited [2016] (referred to as “Oak”).

In Oak the parties were ordered to file a document called the pre-trial checklist by 3rd February 2014. The Defendant, Oak Cash & Carry Limited, failed to do this.

On 10th February 2014 the Court then ordered that their defence would be struck out if they failed to serve the checklist by 19th February. They again failed to do this and only then served it on 21st February without making any application for relief from the sanction of their defence having been struck out.

British Gas obtained judgment in default of defence and Oak Cash & Carry Limited made their application for relief as late as 24th March 2014.

The first Judge refused relief from sanction. Oak Cash & Carry Limited then appealed and a second Judge granted relief.  However British Gas then appealed to the Court of Appeal against that decision.

Even though the consequence of them being unable to defend a claim against them for £200,000 was harsh, the Court of Appeal decided that it was right to refuse them relief from sanction.

This was because in relation to the first deadline their failure was significant and serious. They were in breach of two successive obligations to do the same thing and they had been provided ample time within which to do so.

At the second stage there was no good reason. The solicitor’s wife’s ongoing health problems did not provide an excuse, particularly because the firm was of significant size and should have deployed appropriate cover for dealing with the matter.

Finally they had failed to make a prompt application for relief and at the point in time they made their application the trial date previously listed had been lost.

Conclusion

Oak is perhaps an extreme example of how spectacularly wrong it can go where orders and rules are not complied with.

From the Court of Appeal’s comments in this case it seems a prompt application for relief, despite the failures and lack of good reason, would likely have rescued Oak Cash & Carry Limited’s opportunity to defend the claim.

Oak is therefore a salient warning for lawyers and unrepresented court users alike: comply with your procedural obligations and, where you have not, make the appropriate application quickly!