The courts are regularly faced with requests to adjourn of hearings, deadlines and trials of matters. Those who write to the court asking for an adjournment tend (regardless of whether a reply is received from the court/the other side or not) to not attend the hearing and the decision is left with the judge as to what to do.
However, it is not a forgone conclusion that the court will simply adjourn the hearing, deadline or trial if a party makes a request. The decision as to whether or not the matter is to be adjourned ultimately remains one for the judge.
It is common for people to put forward “medical grounds”, as their reason for wanting to postpone the proceedings. These medical reasons are sometimes stated as being related to the stresses brought on by the litigation itself. A recent case of Mulalley & Company Ltd v (1) Regent Building Services Ltd (2) Christopher White  EWHC 2962 (Ch) dealt with the point.
Mulalley and Company Ltd v (1) Regent Building Services Ltd (2) White
The Applicant asked the court to make an injunction preventing the Respondents from presenting a winding up petition. The Applicant was making the application as it disputed the debts that were the subject of the petition. The court subsequently listed the application for a hearing. However, the Respondents (an individual and a company) were no longer instructing solicitors and applied for an adjournment on the grounds of ill health. They did not appear at the hearing. The application proceeded and the court granted the injunction in the Respondents’ absence.
The decision whether to adjourn a hearing, and whether to proceed with a hearing in the absence of a party, are both case management decisions. The court is required to exercise discretion, in accordance with the overriding objective, and bear in mind the circumstances of the individual case. The judge in this case referred to the previous case of Levi v Ellis-Carr and quoted:
“Parties who think that they thereby compel the Court not to proceed with the hearing or that their non-attendance somehow strengthens the application for an adjournment are deeply mistaken. The decision whether or not to adjourn remains one for the judge.”
When someone applies for an adjournment, they should include evidence and reasons for the application. The court will then consider the evidence in support of the application and will make its decision based on that. Ultimately, it is a risky strategy from litigants (particularly litigants in person) to simply write to the court and expect to have their hearing adjourned. We therefore advise that you seek legal advice at the earliest stage.
A solicitor will be used to dealing with the court’s deadlines and there should therefore be less reason for an adjournment. Should you require an adjournment in any case, your solicitor can advise you; both on the best time to make the application, and the contents of the application.
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