Let last week's decision in a High Court claim against the Ministry of Defence be a lesson to all litigants - and the MoD!
A Royal Marine had become ill with Q fever when returning to the UK from service in Afghanistan, ultimately leading to him suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. He sued the MoD for damages, claiming that he should have been given an antibiotic before he went or when his symptoms materialised.
Documents held by each side to a claim may be the route to success or failure in litigation. And, as a general rule, the documents which one party holds on an issue in a case, must be disclosed to the other side. The Royal Marine's solicitors were after the MoD's documents about the state of knowledge when the fever was contracted as to risks and treatments and why no antibiotics had been supplied.
The MoD agreed to disclose its relevant documents by September 2015. In May 2016 it had not done so and asked for more time even though this would put back the trial date which had already been scheduled. A judge gave it more time but directed that if it did not comply then its defence would be struck out and judgment would be entered for the claimant about whether the MoD was liable. One day before the MoD's time for full compliance ran out, it applied again for even more time.
The judge was unimpressed. He said that the volume of documentation involved could have been foreseen and that delay had not been caused by matters beyond the MoD's control. Pressure of other work and demands on staff were not adequate excuses.
The High Court will now decide on the level of the claimant's damages.
There are other Q fever claims pending against the MoD.