A judge checking the court hasn't been short-changed again.
The High Court has ruled that a claim could not proceed due to the claimants' solicitors underpaying the court fee by £24.
In the case of Peterson & Anor v Howard De Walden Estates Ltd, the claimants had four months to make an application in their dispute, as tenants, against a landlord.
On 25 March 2022, two days before the deadline, the claimants' solicitors, Wiseman Lee (since acquired by Axiom DWFM) went to the Central London County Court, but found the counter had been moved due to renovation works.
Court staff told the firm's representative that payments could not be made yet at the new location, but if papers were lodged in the post box they would be treated as having been received that day.
The solicitors issued the claim form with a covering letter to give authority to deduct a fee of £308, which was previously the correct amount. However, the sum had been increased to £332 in September 2021.
The court returned the claim form to the solicitors with a letter saying the matter could not be processed with the old fee, and that the deadline was missed. Wiseman Lee asked the court for relief to rectify the matter, due to an error of procedure.
Recorder Hansen told the lawyers that the court was "quite entitled" to do as it did, "given the failure" of the solicitors to "tender the correct fee".
He said that the commencement of proceedings is marked by the issue of the claim form "and it is only then that the court’s case management powers" are engaged.
However, Hansen opined that the law for this issue was "ripe for review" querying if the current legal position was "entirely satisfactory" given that the mistake in this case was "inadvertent and understandable".
The solicitors appealed on the basis that Hansen had failed to characterise the fee mistake as an error of procedure.
Mr Justice Eyre in the High Court rejected the appeal stating that the four-month period for tenants to bring claims was government legislation, and it was not for the courts to say the result of this was unsatisfactory.
The error "was a failure to take a step which the lord chancellor had required to be taken before the court staff would issue a claim form," said the judge.
The judge also said that the correct court fee was a matter of public record. “One can well understand how the error arose but the position remains that the error was made because the claimants’ solicitors were working on the basis of a fee scale which had been superseded some six months previously.”
The High Court judge threw out the claim.