Professionals and their legal advisers who delay court proceedings without good cause are likely to find their case throw out, following a decision in the Technology and Construction Court.

The decision shows that courts will not tolerate procedural delays following the Jackson Reforms. The case centred on a construction dispute after Lincolnshire County Council (claimant) found damp in Boston Grammar School’s new science block, which was completed in 2002.

The Council issued proceedings against Mouchel Business Services and R G Carter Building Services near expiry of the limitation period in July 2013.  At the same time it asked for more time to submit its claim and was granted an extension until January 2014.  After it failed to make any progress with the case, it asked for a further extension, without notifying the defendants. The claimant’s solicitor claimed it could not meet the deadline due to annual leave by the solicitor conducting the case and others. The further extension was initially granted, but the case was then thrown out following an application by the defendant’s solicitors.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith, said: “Where a party issues protective proceedings hard up against the expiry of the limitation period, it is expected to pursue those proceedings promptly and effectively; and if it subsequently seeks and obtains orders extending time for the service of the Claim Form or Particulars of Claim without notice to the other party, it dices with procedural death.”

James Burgoyne, Director, Brunel Professional Risks believes the case is good news for professionals facing negligence claims.  “This case gives professionals comfort that claims for negligence will be dealt with promptly, rather than dragging on for years.  The Jackson Report highlighted that courts had become too tolerant of delays and this case shows that the reforms are really beginning to bite.  It is good news for professionals who will be able to get on with their business rather than facing protracted litigation.  It is also good for insurers who will have certainly about their liabilities – which in turn will help to control the cost of professional indemnity insurance premiums.

The case has been reported by solicitors Beale & Company and in a blog posting by Gordon Exall, barrister at Zenith Chambers.