For a change, this isn’t a reference to my love of a drink or two. It is true that I am fond of saying that it must be 4pm somewhere and so it’s never too early to start drinking, but that is not what I was thinking of.

In law, 4pm is quite an important time of day. Most deadlines are given in terms of a day (working day) and a time (by 4pm). So if you have to file something, serve something, issue something or just pay something, the chances are that it will be due by 4pm on the day in question, and as I have commented in other posts, even being just a few minutes late can be out of time.

The reason for the 4pm deadline is that that is what time court offices close – so if you didn’t get it in to the court by 4pm, you were effectively in to the following day, and so 4.01 was actually tomorrow. That might sound quite logical, although you may wonder why even in this day and age, courts still close at 4pm. Well, there has been some progress, in that when I started out in law, courts closed for the whole of August and time actually stopped – I’m honestly not making this up, nor am I drunk!

Nevertheless, things have now moved on, and with new technology and new rules come unexpected changes. For example, a recent case looked at the requirement to file an appeal notice by a particular day, but as it was required to be filed online only, where the system operates 24/7, the question arose at what time on that day it had to be filed. The order that the parties were complying with set out the date, but not a time. The notice was filed on the right day but after 4pm, and the other side argued that it was out of time. The matter went to the Court of Appeal, who decided that as the lower court had not specified a time, and as the court system was capable of accepting it at any time (unlike the court offices that closed at 4pm) it was within the wording of the order and so was allowed.

Various things spring to mind when reading the court case.

Firstly, why did it take the journalist a whole page to summarise that one point. Perhaps they are paid by the line.

Secondly, why did the solicitor filing the notice take the risk. To be fair, I’ve had my fair share of dealing with clients who are struggling to make decisions on very important points, and sometimes you just run out of time, but even so, if they’d got it in by 4pm, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates the constantly changing nature and face of law. We are often giving advice to clients based on what the law is today. In litigation in particular, a dispute can be going on for several years especially at the moment. I have two relatively straight forward matters heading towards trial right now. Both will only require the court’s time for a few days at the final hearing, and both will have been progressing for two years when we finally get our day in court. When we get to trial, we will be bound by any legal decisions that have been handed down in the meantime. So if, for example, our claim or defence was based purely or largely on a timing issue, that court of appeal decision could completely change our position, which is something that could not possibly have been predicted at the outset. Or rather, the only thing that I could have predicted is that nothing is certain.

I often talk about the perils of litigation, and the benefits of negotiation, or doing everything you can to avoid a dispute in the first place by having proper paperwork and procedures in place. That doesn’t mean that you should avoid litigation at all costs. Often the rewards can outweigh the risks. However, it is cases like this that cause me to laugh when I’m told that someone believes their case or defence is guaranteed to win. In my world, there is no such thing as a slam dunk, and even the best and most convincing of cases can fall apart.

The only thing that is certain, of course is whether I could manage another glass of prosecco!

Kleyman & Co Solicitors. The full service law firm. Good advice no matter what time of day.