Courts Continue To Crack Down On Litigation Delays

Published date26 July 2021
Subject MatterLitigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Trials & Appeals & Compensation
Law FirmDillon Eustace
AuthorMs Rachel Turner

Two recent judgments of the High Court, dismissing proceedings for inordinate and inexcusable delay, are indicative of the courts' continuing approach to the failure to observe time limits in litigation.

In Kennedy v. Wexford County Council and Priority Construction Company Limited [2021] IEHC 187, the High Court struck out, on the grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay, a plaintiff's action claiming damages for trespass and nuisance. In his judgment, Owens J. observed that "all plaintiffs are taken to know that where an action is commenced long after the events giving rise to the cause of action, they have a positive obligation to advance proceedings to trial with expedition."

The plaintiff's proceedings concerned the alleged unauthorised dumping of waste on the plaintiff's field in late 2001 and early 2002 and whether the first defendant could be deemed to be responsible for the act of an independent contractor. Proceedings were commenced in October 2007 in circumstances where the claim was due to become statute-barred in May 2008.

Pleadings were exchanged between the parties until May 2014 and the last letter from the plaintiff's solicitor to the second defendant was in May 2015. No further steps were taken until a notice of intention to proceed issued in February 2018 and updated particulars of loss and damage were served in February 2019. In June 2019 the second defendant advised the plaintiff of their intention to issue an application to have the action dismissed.

Owens J. considered the applicable rules to be clear: The second defendant must establish that the delay of the plaintiff in prosecuting his claim was both inordinate and inexcusable, and that the balance of justice favoured the dismissal of the claim. The court relied on the leading Supreme Court decision of Primor plc v. Stokes Kennedy Crowley [1996] 2 I.R. 459 in assessing the balance of justice principle applicable.

Ultimately, the court held that there was an inordinate delay in the proceedings, noting in particular that as the cause of action was nearly statute barred the plaintiff had a "self-serving duty to advance it to trial with all reasonable expedition". Instead, there had been long periods of time when little to nothing was done to pursue the claim. Owens J. did not agree that the delay by the second defendant in delivering their defence and responding belatedly to an application for discovery excused the plaintiff's delay, nor should it be regarded favourably for the...

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