A London borough which failed to file evidence required in a care case by a court-ordered deadline must pay costs, a judge has ruled.
In London Borough of Bexley v V & Ors, the outer London council had been ordered to file the evidence by 4pm on June 2. That date had been specified in a court order dated 12 May, and was itself an extension of an earlier timetable. In a court order dated 17 February, it had been ordered to submit the evidence by 22 May.
Despite two court queries regarding the missing evidence, the council did not file the documents until June 14, nearly two weeks after the court-ordered date.
Sitting at the High Court in London, Mr Justice Keehan described the delay in submission as a “contumelious failure”, and said it had prevented the other parties in the care case from carrying out their own duties, as specified in the order of 12 May. He therefore granted them an extension.
The judge declared:
“It was said on behalf of the London Borough of Bexley that no application was made for an extension of time because it was not known when the local authority could comply. That is simply not good enough and it will not do.”
Mr Justice referred to the 2013 case of Re W, in which President of the Family Division Sir James Munby criticised the “slapdash, lackadaisical approach” which “still far too frequently characterises the response to orders made by family courts”.
The President declared:
“There is simply no excuse for this. Orders, including interlocutory orders, must be obeyed and complied with to the letter and on time. Too often they are not. They are not preferences, requests or mere indications; they are orders.”
Mr Justice Keehan said he understood that both social workers and lawyers often work under “enormous great strain” given last year’s cuts to legal aid, but stressed that such pressures did not relieve them of their responsibility to obey court orders. The Borough’s failures in the case were “stark”, he declared.
“This hearing would not have been required if they had complied with their orders and, in my judgment, it was right that this matter was listed at the earliest opportunity to address those failings and to enable the other parties to make submissions as to when they could comply with their obligations to file documents. Accordingly, I am in no doubt that it is right that the local authority should be ordered to pay the costs of this hearing.”
Read the full judgement here.
Photo by net_efekt via Flickr