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What factors should the court take account of in adjourning a trial?

We are often faced with questions when a final hearing is approaching asking about what will happen if the other side tries to adjourn or even our client wanting to adjourn!

The starting point for all Tribunals and Courts is that they should be reluctant to adjourn a final hearing unless there is good reason. The general principle is that given all parties will have had notice and will often have been involved in the whole listing process it would be against the overriding objective to adjourn trials given the expense and time that would be wasted.

Recently in the case of Dhillon v. Asiedu [2012]EWCA (Civ) 1020 the Court of Appeal issued guidance on the issues to be taken account of. The facts in the instant case are that the Appellant had taken a loan from the Respondent with the terms negotiated by a friend. The matter then appears to have been subject to litigation and the matter was listed for trial. Sadly shortly before this the friend died and the Appellant suffered a severe bereavement reaction. It would appear various trial dates were then adjourned and unless orders made and ultimately a litigation friend was appointed. At the trial date then fixed an application was made to adjourn on the basis that the Appellant was unable to attend, give evidence and be cross examined and it was fundamentally unfair to continue.

An interesting set of facts at probably the more extreme end of the scale and one can see that a court would have had sympathy with the Appellant given these circumstances.

The Court of Appeal set out the following guidance:

• Fairness requires the position of both sides to be considered and all cases must be dealt with justly, expeditiously and fairly. A number of outcomes are possible and only if the judge had failed to take account of relevant factors, had taken into account immaterial factors or come to a decision that was impermissible would the Court of Appeal interfere.

In this case the Court decided that the Judge was entitled to say that the late evidence of incapacity was not a sufficient factor as this could have been available sooner. Further he was entitled to say that the Appellant could have in the past filed evidence and complied with various unless orders. The oral agreement involving the deceased friend’s evidence was a key part and the Appellant could not have given material evidence on this in any event. It was accepted that the Appellant could attend the trial but she did have a litigation friend appointed to conduct her case. Taking all of these into account the Judge had to balance this against the fact that the Respondent lived abroad and had flown to the UK for the hearing which was the third time the case had been actually listed. On balance he was entitled to not agree the adjournment.

What is clear is that simply coming along on the day of the trial and seeking an adjournment is not going to find favour. If a party thinks they need an adjournment for whatever reason they should apply at the earliest opportunity and make sure they can go through all the reasons and try and demonstrate why this is fair and just. The courts are clearly entitled to take a robust stance with regards to such applications and the Court of Appeal will clearly be reluctant to interfere.

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