Issuing legal proceedings may make your opponent sit up and take notice but remember, once you’ve pinned your flag to the mast you have started out on a journey that may run its full course. Many claims are settled in the early stages, but not all matters are capable of settlement. Once a claim has been issued it is not an option to just discontinue, unless you are prepared to pay your opponent’s costs. Once a matter has been listed for trial, it can be difficult to get an adjournment. Any attempt to do so can be seen as a delaying tactic. Any party unable to attend court must have an extremely good reason for not doing so – in other words, you can’t just lose interest in the case and decide not to turn up on the day. If you don’t attend trial your case and be struck out by the court and judgment maybe entered against you. Any application for an adjournment on medical grounds must be supported by expert evidence.
Alan Knight has been in the news recently because he managed to avoid standing trial for two years after being charged with defrauding his elderly neighbour out of his life savings of £41,570. In an attempt to get the case dropped, Mr Knight’s wife said “My husband is quadriplegic and in a comatose condition, bed-bound at home. I can tell when he is in pain because he goes very red in the face and sort of squints his eyes very tightly like a child who’s going to cry. It’s the only indication I get”. At the same time Mr Knight was caught on CCTV shopping in Tesco and driving back from a caravanning holiday in Dorset. When Mr Knight was informed that the trial would go ahead whether or not he appeared, he attended court in a wheelchair and a neck brace. Mr Knight had a letter from his GP, as well as the backing of his local MP.
Judge Paul Thomas told the court that Mr Knight had managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the family GP and that his shopping and holidaying “are inconsistent with being paraplegic or in a coma”. The judge said “I have come to the conclusion he is putting it on“. Judge Thomas added: “Aspects of this case in my experience are unique, and a strong message needs to be sent out to anyone who seeks to adopt similar tactics”.
Mr Knight admitted 19 charges of forgery, fraud and theft and will be sentenced this month.The moral of the story? There are several, but in the context of trying to avoid trial:-
- Consider very carefully in the first place whether you really do want to issue proceedings – are you prepared for the fact that you might be in it for the long haul?
- Always try to settle proceedings as soon as possible – before costs escalate and significant management time is spent.
- If you do issue proceedings and then lose interest, do not underestimate the ability of private investigators to obtain evidence of you partying on the beach in Thailand (or perhaps in a caravan in Dorset) at the same time as claiming to be too ill to attend trial.
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