Court overturns BBC libel claim extension

The Court of Appeal has overturned a judge’s decision to grant a libel claimant extra time to serve a claim form on a BBC editor.

Mediator Stephen Drury served the documents on the BBC, over an edition of Watchdog which was broadcast on 12 April 12, but failed to serve them on the programme’s editor, Douglas Carnegie.

Solicitors Kirwans, which was acting for Drury at that time, served the claim form to launch the litigation on the BBC on the final available day of the one-year limitation period, naming the corporation, Carnegie and freelance television journalist Paul Moore, who had produced the Watchdog programme, as the defendants. But the BBC refused to accept the claim on Carnegie’s behalf.

Kirwans subsequently faxed the particulars of claim to the BBC on the last available day of the four-month period for doing so specified by the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR). The firm also claimed to be serving the documents on Carnegie and Moore via the BBC.

But the claim was only effective against the BBC, as the CPR requires the particulars of claim to be served on individual defendants at their home addresses. The BBC again refused to accept the form on Carnegie’s behalf, and returned the relevant papers to Kirwans.

After a series of delays, Drury applied for an extension of the period for service in November 2006, almost three months after the time for service of the papers had ended. The application was heard in November by Mr Justice Eady, who agreed to give Drury an extension in which to serve the papers.

But in a Court of Appeal hearing, Lady Justice Smith and Lord Justice Dyson haveoverturned Mr Justice Eady’s decision.

Smith said: “This court has on more than one occasion stressed that one of the intentions behind the Civil Procedure Rules is that time limits should be taken seriously. This court has warned litigants of the dangers of leaving until the last minute the taking of a procedural step governed by a time limit.

“If repetition of this warning is necessary, let this case provide it. A litigant is entitled to make use of every day allowed by the rules for the service of a claim form. But it is well known that hitches can be encountered when trying to effect service.

“A litigant who delays until the last minute does so at his peril.”

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