Decker v Hopcraft [2015]

In Decker v Hopcraft [2015] EWHC 1170 (QB) (30 April 2015) the Defendant had sought orders to strike out some of the claims and directions in respect of defamation actions so that parts of the claim remaining be tried as preliminary issues. The Defendant was represented by counsel, the Claimant represented himself.

The dispute arose from their membership of a boxing club. The Claimant was club secretary and the Defendant was club chairman. They fell out when the Claimant announced his intention to run for club chairman in opposition to the Defendant. The Claimant accused the Defendant of amending the club constitution to remove the Claimant which he referred to boxing’s governing body.

The Claimant applied to the court for the Defendant’s application to be adjourned because of his ill health. He had written to the Court about medical treatment he was receiving on the 29th October which prevented him attending court until the 21st November and applied for an adjournment on medical grounds.

The hearing was relisted for the 12th February 2015. The Claimant produced another medical certificate until the 23rd March, each time the Defendant had not objected. On 10th April he wrote to the court that he would require hospital treatment on the 11th May requesting an adjournment. The Defendant did not consent.

The Defendants served an application notice on the Claimant then a hearing bundle and documentation. They sent a letter that the hearing date was still on and if the Claimant applied for an adjournment, the Defendant wanted medical evidence.

A day before the hearing the Claimant issued an application to adjourn which Mr Justice Warby noted would be opposed and the application be heard with the Defendants application at the same time.

Mr Justice Warby considered that the decision to adjourn or proceed with a hearing when one of the parties is not in attendance, was a case management decision which decision is for the court to make and it cannot be forced on the court as the Judge in Levy v Ellis-Carr observed, the courts are on a daily basis asked for an adjournment, most frequently on medical grounds, the decision for which will always remain with the Judge.

He considered the court must scrutinise the evidence very carefully as in Levy v Ellis-Carr where the Judge considered that the evidence should identify who the medical practitioner is, how well he knew the medical condition of the particular party, full details of the condition and how it would affect that party during the trial so that the court could give due consideration and make appropriate arrangements if considered necessary on assessment of the matters before him.

Levy v Ellis-Carr was confirmed in Forrester Ketley v Brent [2012] upholding a decision to dismiss an application to adjourn on medical grounds and in Governor and Company of the Bank of Ireland v Jeffrey [2012] an application to adjourn was refused with the Judge noting that a person who is unable to work at a job does not necessarily mean that he would be unable to attend court and deal with the matters before him.

Further if that person has been in communication with the court and the other party without any problem then they should be able to deal accordingly with their case in Court.

In Fox v Graham the court refused an adjournment to a litigant in person, it can proceed in his absence if the court is satisfied it is right to grant the relief sought or that the application is hopeless.

Mr Justice Warby agreed with Defendant’s counsel this was a small claim and should be managed with efficiency to avoid costs and delay. He considered the Claimant physically able to attend Court, his correspondence had shown him to deal with matters in an intelligent manner.

He did not consider the medical evidence for cognitive impairment produced by the Claimant as sufficient to demonstrate that he should be granted an adjournment.

Mr Justice Warby refused the application for an adjournment saying that he would proceed in the Claimant’s absence. He has voluntarily made himself absent even though he is fit enough to attend the proceedings, with breaks if they had been needed.

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