The courts control the progress of litigation with a firm hand and the consequences of failing to comply with case management directions can be severe. In one case that proved the point, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was stripped of its right to defend a multi-million-pound clinical negligence claim.

A former Royal Marine had contracted Q fever during a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The illness had had a devastating impact on his physical and mental health. He suffered from a depressive condition and was wheelchair dependent. Lawyers launched proceedings against the MoD on his behalf, alleging that his medical treatment had been negligent. They valued his claim at £6-8 million.

In striking out the MoD’s defence to the claim, the High Court noted its substantial and serious breaches of court orders requiring pre-trial disclosure of documents. Whilst the MoD had not deliberately flouted those orders, the breaches had resulted in lengthy delays in the litigation and the Court was unimpressed by the litany of excuses that it had put forward. In the circumstances, judgment on liability was entered in favour of the ex-Marine. The amount of his damages remained to be finally assessed.

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