Is it over now?  Why a Default or Summary Judgment isn’t always the end of the road 

Obtaining an early judgment in your favour following a defendant’s failure to either adequately respond to a claim or indeed respond at all, is what many claimants would (understandably) cite as their ‘ideal’ outcome or best case scenario when they set out to commence litigation.

Whether it be a breach of contract argument with a supplier, a claim against an unruly landlord for overdue repairs or a dispute with a neighbour over the use of a shared driveway, all claimants who have had to resort to Court proceedings would naturally consider that obtaining judgment without a year of litigation (and without a trial) to be the Court room equivalent of striking the jackpot.

Indeed, parties could be forgiven for this assumption; default and summary judgments are, at their core, a mechanism in the Civil Procedure Rules Parts 12 and 24, respectively, for claimants to apply to have the Court determine their case early, without having to go through the rigmarole of hearing all the evidence at a Trial, due to, in the case of default judgment, the defendant having failed to acknowledge or respond to the claim at all, or in the case of summary judgment, the defence filed being meaningless with no real substance or hope of success.

A common misconception, however, is that once a claimant has obtained an early judgment, the defendant will have no further say in the matter and the claimant therefore obtains a ‘blank cheque’ for every sum and aspect of relief they have claimed. In reality, unless the claim in question is for a specified amount of money from the outset (such as an unpaid invoice), the Court will still need to assess the damages payable or other relief available to the claimant, and more often than not will make directions for a disposal hearing, pursuant to CPR 12.8 in the case of default judgments and CPR 24.6 in the case of summary judgments, in order to consider the exact amount of damages or extent of other relief to be granted.

In these circumstances, it is prudent for claimants to bear in mind that, in many cases, even if they have obtained an early judgment, they will still need to produce their own evidence on the amount of damages to be granted or the terms of the injunction they seek, as it will be open to the Court to award less than claimed.  Moreover, a procedural feature that often goes under the radar is that defendants who have had default or summary judgment entered against them already are still permitted to participate in these disposal hearings, and even to adduce their own evidence on quantum and relief where the Court directs it.

While such defendants of course cannot go ‘behind’ the early judgment so as to delve into arguments on their underlying liability in the claim, claimants must be aware that it is within the Court’s case management powers to direct that the defendant may still produce witness statements on damages or other relief sought, which in effect gives them an opportunity to be ‘heard’ in Court, and to ultimately reduce the scope of impact of the judgment made against them.

This can, in many cases, provide a ‘lifeline’ for defendants who perhaps did not take sufficient legal advice at the point of being served with Court proceedings or did not realise the strict timescales for filing a Defence and, as a consequence, find themselves on the receiving end of a default or summary judgment by the time they engage solicitors some months later.  If the Court is by then not willing to set aside judgment, grant the defendant relief from sanction or a retrospective extension of time for filing a late Defence, the only option open to that defendant is to ‘fight their ground’ on damages and relief at a later disposal hearing.

Indeed, claimants and defendants alike would undoubtedly be surprised at the difference strong evidence on the question of damages and relief at a disposal hearing can make, even where ‘liability,’ has already been determined. Claimants must be vigilant against complacency once early judgment is obtained with damages or relief still to be assessed, as it cannot be assumed the Court will rubber-stamp every sum or injunctive term you seek; the burden still remains very much on the claimant party to substantiate the relief sought. 

On the other hand, defendants who find themselves faced with a judgment against them in these circumstances must recognise the importance of not ‘throwing in the towel.’ With specialist legal advice, support and representation at a disposal hearing, it can still be within such a defendant’s gift to wrestle back some control or handle over the proceedings against them, either to reduce or even deplete the damages payable if strong enough evidence and submissions can be collated ahead of the disposal or further post-judgment directions hearing.

Whether you are a claimant with judgment in your favour but are unsure how to properly prepare for a disposal hearing, or a defendant with judgment against you feeling overwhelmed and defeated, Berry Smith are experienced in acting successfully for clients in both scenarios, and can offer pragmatic, structured advice and assistance to protect your interests accordingly.

Berry Smith’s Dispute Resolution team is more than happy to assist with any property or contractual dispute you may have and is regularly instructed by both business and individuals. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 02920 345 511 or

Emma Jayne Scullion – Associate