A recent case highlighted the fact that the safeguards contained within Civil Procedure Rule 24 (CPR 24) can be dispensed with if procedural defects are remedied or are capable of being remedied.
The High Court judgement in the case of Williams & Anor v Simm & Ors  EWHC 121 (Ch)
is of significance given that the defendants were litigants in person. Procedural safeguards are designed to protect self-represented litigants from exploitation - and this case raises concerns around whether they are, in fact, fulfilling their purpose.
Both parties can apply for a summary judgment under CPR 24. CPR 24.2 states that the court may give summary judgment against a claimant or defendant on the whole of a claim or on a particular issue if it considers that:
(i) that claimant has no real prospect of succeeding on the claim or issue; or
(ii) that defendant has no real prospect of successfully defending the claim or issue; and
(b) there is no other compelling reason why the case or issue should be disposed of at a trial.
Where summary judgement is granted, the proceedings are brought to a prompt end without the need for a full trial. The court must, therefore, be satisfied that there is no other compelling reason why the case should be disposed of at trial before granting such an order.
Background to the case
On 24 December 2020, the claimants filed an application seeking an order pursuant to CPR 3.4(2)(a).
CPR 3.4(2)(a) states that the court may strike out a statement of case if it appears to the court that the statement of case discloses no reasonable grounds for bringing or defending the claim. In response, the defendants filed on 11 January 2021 an application seeking an order that the claimants’ summary judgement application be struck out pursuant to CPR 3.4(2) and/or summary judgement be granted in the defendants’ favour, pursuant to CPR 24.2.
The defendants took a number of procedural objections in respect of the claimant’s summary judgement application, which were all found by HHJ Cawson QC to be correct.
The procedural objections were as follows:
- The claimants’ skeleton argument had been served late and the electronic bundle for the hearing had been provided to the defendants late the previous evening, providing little or no time to prepare for the hearing as self-represented litigants;
- The application failed to comply with CPR 24 PD para 2(3)(a) & (b), in that the claimants in neither the summary judgement application nor the evidence in support:
- sufficiently identify the points of law that they relied upon, and
- failed to give the defendants sufficient notice of the issues to be determined (i.e. the claimants’ argument that the defendants had no real prospect of successfully defending the claim or that they knew of no other reason why the disposal of the claim should await trail), and
- failed to comply with 24 PD para 2(5) in that the summary judgement application had not drawn the defendants’ attention to the requirement to file evidence seven days before the hearing.
HHJ Cawson QC noted that whilst there had been a breach of all the above no prejudice had been demonstrated, and the hearing was able to proceed without the defendants encountering any difficulty in being able to present their case.
While it should be incumbent on the judiciary to do what it can to help litigants in person navigate the civil justice system as effectively as they can, this case demonstrates both the failings in the system and the importance of securing independent legal advice to best protect your interests.