As you were clearly unaware of the claim you can apply to have the judgment set aside pursuant to rule 13 of the Civil Procedure Rules.
A judgment in default is a Court judgment issued against a defendant following a request by the claimant in circumstances in which the defendant has failed to file an acknowledgment of service or a defence within the required time limits in Court proceedings. It has the same potential consequences as a normal Court judgment in terms of the various ways it can be enforced and can have severe effects on the defendant’s credit rating, leading in some cases to insolvency proceedings.
The Courts “must” set judgment aside where amongst other reasons the defendant has in fact filed an acknowledgment of service or a defence and can prove it but for whatever reason it has been missed. The Courts will even do this where the documents are filed late i.e. after the deadline but before the Court has had the chance to issue judgment.
However, as in your case the Courts “may” set judgment aside in two further cases, meaning they will exercise their discretion in deciding whether to do so.In both of these cases, applications are required to be made “promptly” (promptness usually being measured from the point the defendant becomes aware of the default judgment).
1. A default judgment “may” be set aside if a defendant can show that it has a “real prospect of successfully defending the claim”. In other words, the Court will not set judgment aside simply because it has been asked to do so, you need to show that you may actually be able to win at trial; otherwise, it makes sense for the judgment to stand given there is unlikely to be a different outcome if the proceedings are allowed to continue.
What is required to meet this criteria will always vary according to the facts of each case but it should be said that it is not quite the same as having to fully defend the claim at trial. Whilst a defendant should set out its defence in its application evidence, it does not need to fully particularise the defence in the same way it would in a set of pleadings – the threshold is slightly lower and you just need to do enough to show a “real prospect” of success.
2. A default judgment may also be set aside if the claimant can show that, “there is some other good reason why… (i) the judgment should be set aside or varied; or (ii) the defendant should be allowed to defend the claim”. What constitutes “some other good reason” will again vary from case to case. There is no prescribed list of reasons and the Courts will look at the circumstances and context of each particular case, even where that context is highly unusual.
Although making an application to set aside judgment may be a daunting prospect to begin with, it is reasonably common for claimants to consent to such applications where they can see that a defendant has a strong case. Indeed, a claimant will sometimes be wise to concede given that, under the usual rules, they will have to pay the defendant’s costs in full if the application goes to a hearing and the defendant succeeds in getting judgment set aside. Simply making the application can lead to discussions along these lines and may even prompt negotiations over settlement of the claim itself at an early stage, the parties having already hashed out their arguments to a substantial extent – this can be advantageous to all given the costs that can be saved in not having to deal with full proceedings. Costs in litigation can escalate quickly and if an application to set aside judgment helps to reduce the differences between the parties, this should be taken advantage of to the extent possible.
A failure to act promptly can be fatal to an application to set aside default judgment, any defendant subject to a default judgment should seek urgent legal advice. Contact the Law Society on 0207(###) ###-####and they can recommend local firms that can help.
An application is made on Form N244 that can be downloaded from the GOV/UK courts service website and a fee of £255 needs to be paid. If money is tight you can apply to the court for a fee remission.
Once you have ascertained the identity of the claimant it is sensible to contact the to agree to the set aside before issuing the application. They very often consent to save time and costs as the matter is going to be defended in any event if your application is successful.