A Judge has to give reasons

A refuse collector was hit by a bin as it was being lowered; he had overridden the automatic operation of the hoist, in order to raise it, and then walked behind the cart, but the automatic operation had unexpectedly cut and he was hit by the bin. The Judge held that the claimant’s account was truthful and that it was supported by the evidence of the joint expert. The employers argued that the Judge had failed to give any adequate reasons for the conclusion that the account was truthful, and failed to deal with the evidence of two witnesses, which was entirely inconsistent to the claimant’s account.

The Court of Appeal overturned the Judge’s decision and remitted the case for a fresh hearing. The court found that the Judge was entitled to state his reasons briefly, but here they were insufficient to support the decision and, while shorter judgments were to be encouraged, and the Judge did not have to deal with every point, where an issue is fundamental to the decision it deserved careful consideration.

Baird -v- Thurrock Borough Council. Court of Appeal 7 November 2005. Times Law Reports.

When must the Judge decide about expert evidence?

The claimant suffered an injury to his right leg while using a torque wrench to tighten wheels. He said that the handle of the wrench suddenly gave way and went straight down striking his right leg. He said this was the result of a hidden defect caused by dust getting into the ratchet mechanism. The Judge found the claimant to be honest and straightforward and believed his account of events. Although an expert witness found no defect in the wrench he was unable to state that the accident could not have happened as the claimant alleged and the Judge therefore found that there had been a breach of Regulation 5 of PUWER.

The defendants appealed. The Court of Appeal found that the Judge should not have made any findings of fact without considering the expert’s evidence first. In a case where the expert evidence was relevant to the way in which the accident could have happened it was incumbent on the Judge to consider that evidence at the time when he was reaching his conclusion on the credibility of the witnesses. However the fact that the Judge’s approach was wrong did not necessarily mean that he had reached the wrong conclusion. In this particular case the court found that, even if the Judge had considered the expert evidence at the correct time, there would still have been a finding that the accident was caused by a sudden downwards movement of the wrench, probably due to a defect within the ratchet, and that therefore there was a breach of Regulation 5.

Jakto Transport Limited -v- Hall. Court of Appeal 9 November 2005.

Default judgment not fair to defendants

The claimant brought proceedings against both the local authority and a teacher after suffering injuries falling from a window on school premises. He then successfully applied to join a third defendant. No defence was filed by this defendant and Judgement in default was entered. The third defendant applied to have the default Judgment set aside and for an order allowing it to file a defence. The Judge refused on the grounds that the third defendant had not acted promptly. The trial to determine liability was due to be held shortly.

The Court of Appeal held that, in a straightforward case, the effect of a default judgment would mean that there would be no trial. However, in this case the trial would have continued as the court would have had to investigate the issue that would have arisen if the third defendant had been taking part: namely which of the defendants had responsibility for the premises. That issue lay at the heart of the case. The risk of injustice to the third defendant of not being able to present a defence outweighed the risk of injustice to the claimant, and the default judgment was therefore set aside and the trial adjourned.

Hussain -v- Birmingham City Council. Court of Appeal 25 November 2005.