File a Defence late and the chances are you will face judgment being entered against you.
The case of Billington –v- Davies and another  EWHC 1919 [CH] heard in the High Court, considered an application by a Claimant for default judgment where the Defendants Defence was filed at Court after the deadline set for filing.
In considering whether to give default judgment, the key question for the Court is whether or not the Defence has been filed, rather than the mertis of the defence. There are strict time limits for acknowledging service and filing a Defence which are calculated by reference to service of the Claimant’s Particulars of Claim on the Defendant. Within 14 days after service of Particulars of Claim, a Defendant must have filed either an Acknowledgment of Service or a Defence. If neither is filed after 14 days, default judgment can be entered. If an Acknowledgment of Service is filed, a Defendant must file a Defence within 28 days after service on him of the Particulars of Claim. If no Defence is filed within that deadline default judgment can be entered.
In Billington the First Defendant did not file a Defence until the day before the Hearing of the Claimant’s application for judgment in default. It was argued that it was a pre-condition for obtaining default judgment that a Defence must not have been filed; the implication being that even a late Defence would be enough to scupper a successful application for default judgment. Deputy Master Pickering rejected this argument. In his judgment, the reference to a Defence in the CPR “was to a Defence which had either been served within time, or in respect of which an extension had been granted”. In the absence of either in this case, the Court considered the significance of a note contained in the White Book (the rule book on civil procedures), which stated that filing a Defence late would prevent a Claimant obtaining default judgment. It was held by the Court that this note was essentially wrong.
It was found that neither the Defendant’s lack of funding, nor the existence of negotiations between the parties existing prior to the application for default judgment, were good reasons for delaying filing a Defence. The Deputy Master found that this was not an appropriate case where he should exercise his discretion to extend time.
This case serves as a useful reminder for all those served with Claim Forms on the perils of ignoring the time limits for filing a Defence. Anyone served with a Claim Form and/or Particulars of Claim by a Claimant, should seek legal advice as quickly as they can to avoid filing and serving documents late and/or pleading facts which are unhelpful or not accurate or comprehensive enough for both the Court and the other side to understand the essential facts in the case.
If you have been served with Claim Forms and require advice on filing a Defence, please call on 01708 229444. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as at October 2016.