Missing Court Deadline to file Acknowledgement of Service and Defence- When is it Late too Late?

Under the Civil Procedure Rules, a defendant has 14 days after being served with a claim form to file an acknowledgement of service and then a further 14 days to file a defence.

In a recent High Court case (Hanson & Ors v Carlino & Anor [2019] EWHC 1940 (Ch)), a claimant was awarded default judgment against a defendant who did not comply with the deadlines for filing an acknowledgement of service and a defence.

In that case, the Claimants made an application for judgment in default. After that application was made, the First Defendant filed an acknowledgement of service and made an application to extend time for the acknowledgement of service and the defence.

The Judge considered whether the acknowledgement of service was recognised as, despite it being late, it was made prior to default judgment being granted. The Judge eventually decided that she did not need to make a decision on that point because a defence had not been filed in any event and so she could award judgment in default of a defence.

The Judge also had to consider the application for relief from sanctions under Part 3.9 of the Civil Procedure Rules because he had missed the deadline for acknowledging service and/or filing a defence without making prior application. The tests for relief from sanctions are considered in a number of cases – the leading guidance is Denton v White [2014] EWCA Civ 906.

The Judge refused the First Defendant’s application to extend time on the basis that the delay in filing the acknowledgement and/or defence was serious and significant and the Claimants were prejudiced as a result. She therefore granted judgment in favour of the Claimants and left it to the First Defendant to make an application to set aside judgment.

The Judge was strongly influenced by the history of the case and the First Defendant’s conduct in choosing not to engage in the proceedings as he should have done at the appropriate stage. This demonstrates how important it is to comply with court deadlines, and the tactical advantage a claimant may have if a defendant misses the deadlines.

If a defendant thinks he/she may be late filing an acknowledgement of service and/or defence, they key is not to delay – promptly make an application to the Court for an extension of time.