Case Brief: Tad Beer Trading Centre v. Caroline Blackburn

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Date of Judgement: 31st May, 2024

Court: High Court (Commercial Division)

Case Number: Miscellaneous Application No. 571 of 2024

Judge: Justice Patricia Mutesi

Main Topic (s): Reinstatement of a dismissed application on account of a lawyer’s mistake or negligence.

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Summary Facts of the Case

The applicant, Tad Beer Trading Centre (U) Limited applied to the Court for reinstatement of its application to set aside ex parte proceedings against it that had been dismissed because of the non-appearance of parties or Counsel when it was called for hearing per Order 9 Rule 17 of the Civil Procedure Rules.

The Applicant’s Managing Director (MD) argued that the non-appearance was due to the negligence of its former lawyers who did not attend Court proceedings or give the applicant updates about the court proceedings.

The MD said he lived in Dubai and was therefore not readily informed about the goings-on in the case.

Legal Issues Before Court

  • Whether there was sufficient cause to warrant the reinstatement of the Applicant’s Application to set aside the ex parte proceedings as required by Order 9 Rule 18 of the Civil Procedure Rules?

Patricia Mutesi (in glasses)/Photo: ChimpReports

Decision of the Court

The Court presided over by Justice Patricia Mutetsi dismissed the applicant’s application on the ground that it had not proven sufficient cause to reinstate the application.

Sufficient cause, according to the Judge, is a factor or reason that occasions a party’s failure to take a necessary step in litigation within a prescribed time, and what amounts to sufficient cause varies from one case to another.

Ordinarily, a litigant will not be penalized with a dismissal of his or her suit on account of non-appearance for a hearing as a result of the negligence of his or her lawyer to meet the ends of Justice, the Judge ruled, but in this case, the applicant’s conduct amounted to dilatory conduct and negligence to the extent that it did not nudge its lawyers with requests for updates or provide them the necessary evidence and had been habitually missing court filings and proceedings even when given the opportunities to attend and be heard.

A client should not sit back and wait for updates from his or her lawyer on their case. He or she should take the initiative to seek updates on the case.

So, the argument of the Applicant’s MD that he lived in Dubai and could not follow up on the applicant’s company’s case did not stick.

Key Quote: “Where a party fails to take a step in litigation as a result of his or her lawyer’s negligence or mistake, the Court should ordinarily ensure that the party is accommodated in order for the substantive justice of the case to be realized. Where, however, that party’s failure to take the step is also caused by his indolence or inadvertence, the Court will not be equally as forgiving. While the rule against visiting mistakes of Counsel on their clients was intended to serve the bonafide purpose of ensuring the substantive of a case will always prevail, the reality is that many litigants abuse that rule by remaining indolent throughout court proceedings only to turn up at later stages of court proceedings with new Counsel seeking to undo the earlier proceedings” – Justice Patricia Mutesi.

Law Applied By the Court

  • Hakan Turkmen & Anor v. Petua Kateeba (HCMA No. 0619 of 2024): Mistake of Counsel is not a magic wand.
  • Kananura v. Kaijuka, SC Civil Reference No.15 of 2016: A client following up on his or her case does not require him to be knowledgeable about court processes.

Counsel on Record

Applicant: Represented by David Gureme Mushabe and Abel Bainomugisha

Respondent: Represented by Busingye Michael

Conclusion

This decision highlights the importance of litigants/clients being actively involved in matters before the Court they are involved in as failure to do so could be interpreted as indolence or laziness or disinterest in their matters.

Although the lawyer must put his or her client’s case before the Court to the best of his abilities, the client must be actively involved in court processes.

Key Quote: ” In my considered view, a litigant should not simply instruct an advocate and sit back. He or she should continue to engage and follow up with his advocate as regularly as necessary for updates and information about the progress of the case.” – Justice Patricia Mutesi.



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