High Court rejects attempt to use a single claim form to advance claims for 3,500 individuals
In a recent High Court decision, Master Davison ruled that a firm of solicitors was not entitled to advance claims on behalf of thousands of individuals using a single claim form. He published a short judgment on 15 July 2022 as this point has arisen several times in multi-party litigation and would potentially impact other cases.
In Abbott v Ministry of Defence, the claimants’ solicitors had sought to use one claim form to bring claims for military noise deafness against the MOD on behalf of approximately 3,500 individuals. The English civil procedure rules technically allow multiple claimants to be named in one claim form provided that all claims “can be conveniently disposed of” in the same proceedings. Whilst the type of injury suffered and the defendant were the same, the Master found that the details of the claims were “disparate” and could not reasonably be disposed of together.
The Master also commented that the court’s electronic filing system was not set up to manage multiple claims using one claim reference number. He noted that it was: (a) impossible to keep track of developments on individual cases filed under the same number and (b) impractical for 3,500 claims to be heard at the same time. The claimants’ solicitors suggested that the court could select approximately 16 test cases which would be determinative of the remaining claims. Master Davison rejected this proposition and concluded that allowing the claims to proceed in that way would lead to multiple trials. Consequently he ordered that unless individual claim forms were commenced within 6 months, then the claims would be struck out.
The existing court rules already give the court discretion to manage multi-party litigation in the form of group litigation orders (GLOs) where claims have “common or related issues”. The GLO procedure requires each individual to start separate claims setting out the detail specific to them. GLOs allow the courts to manage these claims together, which makes the process more cost efficient and reduces the risk of inconsistent decisions.
In this case, other solicitors suing the MOD on behalf of individuals that suffered the same hearing loss had commenced separate claims in line with the GLO procedure. Whilst the claimants’ solicitor’s decision to use one claim form was motivated by an impending limitation deadline, Master Davison had previously criticised the same firm for trying to advance 250 claims using one claim form for the same injury against the MOD. These factors clearly influenced his decision that the use of one claim form to pursue thousands of claims was impermissible. You can read Master Davison’s decision in full on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute website.
This ruling demonstrates the importance of adopting the correct procedure when embarking on group litigation. If you want to know more about multi-party litigation or are interested in pursuing a group claim against a particular organisation, then please contact Jonathan Sachs, who is a partner in the litigation team based in London and is a specialist in this area.
Please don’t hesitate to contact our litigation team should you have any queries on the above or need any assistance with litigation matters in general.