Penalties in proceedings for being rude and abusive to opponents

7th August 2023

In the case of Smout v Wulfrun Hotels Limited [2023] EWHC 1128 (KB), the claimant was successful in its claim having tripped, injuring themselves, over a missing paving stone outside the defendant’s property. Mr Justice Ritchie held that comments made by the defendant, a litigant in person, were unfair and inappropriate towards the law firm representing the claimant, FBC Manby Bowdler. As a result, the defendant was subject to costs penalties imposed by the court which they otherwise wouldn’t have been burdened with had they acted in a professional manner.

In the course of proceedings, the defendant sent correspondence to FBC Manby Bowdler stating that “I must draw the inference that the money spent on legal training was wasteful. Our company has repeatedly had to put up with your pathetic assertions which have yet to be substantiated”. Mr Justice Ritchie highlighted that the defendant continued to send abusive correspondence to the claimant’s legal representatives, referring to comments directed to legal executive of the firm, such as “if you were a solicitor, I would have struck you off for incompetence but unfortunately you never made the grade”.

Upon conclusion of the proceedings, the court ordered indemnity costs against the defendant from the time when the abusive correspondence started. The defendant was penalised and held liable to account for all fees, charges and disbursements incurred by the claimant in bringing its claim.

There is a lesson to be learnt from Smout v Wulfrun Hotels. Though there are instances in which litigation can become emotionally charged, which is naturally to be expected given the adversarial nature of litigation, caution must be exercised as to uphold professional conduct. If abusive comments are made to an opponent in proceedings, there may be a price to pay. Beware of the court’s discretion to penalise you, requiring you pay your opponent’s legal costs.

If you find yourself preparing an emotionally charged email to a party you feel has wronged you, consider picking up the phone and having a conversation with a member of our Dispute Resolution department. We can assist you in approaching the matter professionally and appropriately.

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