Court of Appeal on Extensions of Time in Covid-19: Watts v HMRC [2021] EWCA Civ 1124


Oberon Kwok acted as sole counsel for the successful Respondent in a Court of Appeal case concerning extension of time applications in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Appellant sought to appeal to the High Court a bankruptcy order made against him in the County Court. The High Court made an unless order against the Appellant to file a transcript, failing which the appeal would be struck out. The Appellant then made an application for an extension of time to file a transcript, on the basis that delays had been caused to the court system by the Coronavirus pandemic. The application was unsuccessful, resulting in the appeal being struck out. The Appellant appealed the refusal to extend time to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. The judgment can be found here.

The court’s starting position was that this was a case management decision with which an appellate court would be traditionally reluctant to interfere. The judge was right to consider that the application as insufficiently evidenced and that the Appellant had not made sufficient attempts to obtain a transcript over the course of several months. The Appellant had not made any further efforts to obtain a transcript after the unless order was made.

As to the effects of the pandemic on the delay to the court system, the Court of Appeal held that the judge was correct to take judicial notice of the fact that, although the Coronavirus pandemic had caused some difficulties, it had not prevented the production of transcripts altogether. The Appellant had not made sufficient efforts even within the context of the pandemic, and had failed to demonstrate that it was impossible for him to obtain a transcript.

The judgment highlights that, when seeking extensions of time due to Coronavirus-related reasons, it is not enough to make a vague reference to the effects of the pandemic. It is necessary to produce evidence to show how Coronavirus has impacted specifically on the applicant, and that the applicant has made all reasonable efforts in spite of the pandemic.

Oberon Kwok was instructed by the Solicitors for HM Revenue and Customs as sole counsel for the successful Respondent. Oberon welcomes instructions in commercial chancery matters, and has particular experience in corporate and personal insolvency.