Since the introduction of Simple Procedure actions in 2016, there has been much debate between practitioners as to the interpretation of the rules and their application in practice. Simple Procedure marked a general view from the Courts that low-value actions can often be dealt with without the need for a lengthy court process. Parties are therefore encouraged at the outset to narrow the issues in dispute as soon as possible with a view to achieving early resolution.
The process can be a little more relaxed; however, the importance of adhering to the court rules and only proceeding to a final hearing where necessary must be taken seriously as this can influence the award of expenses.
In a recent hearing at Peterhead Sheriff Court, the Sheriff ensured this rationale was applied.
Details of the case
The Respondent's position was that no damage had been caused to either vehicle and on the morning of the Proof, the Respondent's agent attempted to lodge an engineer's report to support this defence. Not surprisingly, the Sheriff agreed with our argument that the evidence should be refused on the basis that it was late. The Respondent's agent then proceeded to lead evidence from their engineer witness, without the report being allowed; this was also refused. The Sheriff could not see the relevancy of such evidence and in any event, the engineer had not been listed as a witness for the Respondent in advance of the hearing.
After hearing the evidence, the Sheriff preferred that of the Claimant and found that liability had been successfully established against the Respondent. In terms of the damage, the Sheriff found that the Claimant's witnesses were credible and accepted their evidence that the damage was caused as a result of the Respondent's negligence. This was further substantiated by the repair invoice and engineer's report we lodged previously.
Once the Sheriff provided his decision on the evidence, we requested Chapter V expenses on the disputed scale. Reference was made to Section 81 of Courts Reform Scotland Act which states that a full account can be awarded where either party's conduct has been unreasonable. In this particular case, the Respondent's position had been that no damage was caused to either vehicle as a result of the accident, however, no supporting evidence was provided to support this defence until some 14 months after the action was litigated and one week prior to the final hearing. The last date for parties to lodge evidence had passed. Furthermore, we contended that proportionality should have been considered before instructing expert evidence; expenses were limited to £150 given the value of the claim. Lastly, we submitted that court time could have been utilised more effectively had the Respondent's agents engaged in meaningful settlement discussions.
The case first called in Court 10 months prior to the hearing when the Sheriff cautioned parties that independent witness evidence would be required if the defenders intended to proceed with their defences. He also expressed serious concerns throughout the action regarding the economics of proceeding to an evidential hearing without this evidence.
Given the failures on the part of the Respondent (or his agents), the Sheriff agreed with our position and awarded disputed expenses as sought.
This case confirms the aim of the Simple Procedure process. Discussions between parties are crucial to ensure the disputed issues are narrowed as early as possible. Early resolution is the goal. A low-value claim may, of course, be defended but if it is, it must be done so reasonably. If a final hearing is necessary, there ought to be evidence to support the defence. Litigation should never be prolonged unnecessarily and Simple Procedure is no exception.
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