Default Judgment: Late For A Very Important Date?
Timing is everything in litigation, particularly when it comes to responding to a claim once you have been served.
When a defendant is served with a claim form, they have a very short specified period of time to acknowledge receipt of the claim by filing at court, and sending to the claimant, a document called an Acknowledgement of Service. A defendant has only 14 days from receipt of the claim to do that. If a defendant files that acknowledgement of service with the court within 14 days, they have an additional 14 days to submit a defence.
A defendant who fails to file an acknowledgment of service or a defence before the expiry of the time limits, risks having a default judgment entered against them.
Importantly, a default judgment is a binding judgment, made by the court without a trial. Such judgments are made when a defendant fails to take action in response to being served with the claim form. The rules surrounding default judgments are set out in Part 12 of the Civil Procedure Rules.
A claimant has always been permitted to ask the court to enter default judgment once the time for filing an acknowledgment of service or defence has expired. However, new changes to Part 12 of the Civil Procedure Rules which came into force on 6 April 2020 clarify that default judgment cannot be entered if an acknowledgment of service or defence has been filed, notwithstanding the fact that the filing may have been after the expiry of the time limit. This means that a claimant can only obtain a default judgment if, at the date on which default judgment is entered, the document has still not been filed and the time limit for filing has expired.
The amendment to Part 12 appears to favour defendants as default judgment is no longer the automatic consequence of a failure to comply with the relevant time limit. A defendant should therefore ensure that if they miss the deadline for filing an acknowledgment of service or defence, they take steps to file the relevant document as soon as possible. Conversely, claimants should take steps to apply for a default judgment as soon as the time limit has expired. This avoids providing the defendant with the extension of time for filing the acknowledgment of service or defence.