The Attorney General (Appellant) v Keron Matthews (Respondent)
Decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
From the Court of Appeal of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Delivered 20 October 2011
Issues – failure to file a defence in time – effect of non-compliance with a CPR-imposed deadline – whether the consequence of failure to comply led to “implied sanctions” making the case a relief from sanctions case – Whether the overriding objective was relevant – development of local jurisprudence – rejection of the “imposed sanctions” doctrine.
The Board allowed an appeal from a Court of Appeal decision which stated that non-compliance with the period specified in the CPR for filing a defence led to an implied sanction for which relief must be sought.
“…the rule 26.7(3) conditions (ie conditions to be satisfied before the court will grant relief from sanctions – ed. note) have no part to play when the court decides whether to set aside a default judgment. It follows that an application to set aside a default judgment is not an application for relief from a sanction imposed by the rule”
“…The Board is conscious of the overriding objective and the court’s obligation to give effect to it when it interprets the meaning of any rule. The jurisprudence developed by the Court of Appeal emphasises the fact that the overriding objective of dealing with cases justly includes dealing with cases in ways which are proportionate and dealing with cases expeditiously. It also makes the point that an element of discretion is inherent in the preconditions specified in rule 26.7(3)… The Board certainly has no wish to impede the court’s commendable desire to encourage a new litigation culture or to undermine the steps that it is taking to rid Trinidad and Tobago of the “cancerous laisser-faire approach to civil litigation”.
“ Nevertheless, if the language of the rules admits of only one interpretation, it must be given effect. For the reasons set out above, the Board cannot accept that, where a defendant fails to file a defence within the period prescribed by the rule, it is subject to an implied sanction imposed by the rules.”