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Summary Judgement the basics

Written by Michael Coyle on 11 January 2017

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In English law a court may give summary judgment against EITHER party on the whole of a claim or on a particular issue if it considers that either party has no real prospect of succeeding on the claim or issue or that either party has no real prospect of successfully defending the claim or issue; and there is no other compelling reason why the case or issue should be disposed of at a trial.

These three points can be found in CPR Part 24. In terms of case law there is an abundance of law and one of the principle cases is Mellor v Partridge [2013] EWCA Civ 477 where Lewison LJ set out the principles to be applied in an application for summary judgment:

"[3] … Our task is not to decide whether the claimants are right. Our task is to decide which parts of the case (if any) are fit to go to trial. If I may repeat something I have said before (Easyair Ltd v Opal Telecom Ltd [2009] EWHC 339 (Ch), approved by this court in AC Ward & Son v Catlin (Five) Ltd [2009] EWCA Civ 1098):


"The correct approach on applications by defendants is, in my judgment, as follows:
i) The court must consider whether the claimant has a 'realistic' as opposed to a 'fanciful' prospect of success: Swain v Hillman [2001] 1 All ER 91;
ii) A 'realistic' claim is one that carries some degree of conviction. This means a claim that is more than merely arguable: ED & F Man Liquid Products v Patel [2003] EWCA Civ 472 at [8];
iii) In reaching its conclusion the court must not conduct a 'mini-trial': Swain v Hillman;
iv) This does not mean that the court must take at face value and without analysis everything that a claimant says in his statements before the court. In some cases, it may be clear that there is no real substance in factual assertions made, particularly if contradicted by contemporaneous documents: ED & F Man Liquid Products v Patel at [10];
v) However, in reaching its conclusion the court must take into account not only the evidence actually placed before it on the application for summary judgment, but also the evidence that can reasonably be expected to be available at trial: Royal Brompton Hospital NHS Trust v Hammond (No 5) [2001] EWCA Civ 550;
vi) Although a case may turn out at trial not to be really complicated, it does not follow that it should be decided without the fuller investigation into the facts at trial than is possible or permissible on summary judgment. Thus the court should hesitate about making a final decision without a trial, even where there is no obvious conflict of fact at the time of the application, where reasonable grounds exist for believing that a fuller investigation into the facts of the case would add to or alter the evidence available to a trial judge and so affect the outcome of the case: Doncaster Pharmaceuticals Group Ltd v Bolton Pharmaceutical Co 100 Ltd [2007] FSR 63;
vii) On the other hand it is not uncommon for an application under Part 24 to give rise to a short point of law or construction and, if the court is satisfied that it has before it all the evidence necessary for the proper determination of the question and that the parties have had an adequate opportunity to address it in argument, it should grasp the nettle and decide it. The reason is quite simple: if the respondent's case is bad in law, he will in truth have no real prospect of succeeding on his claim or successfully defending the claim against him, as the case may be. Similarly, if the applicant's case is bad in law, the sooner that is determined, the better. If it is possible to show by evidence that although material in the form of documents or oral evidence that would put the documents in another light is not currently before the court, such material is likely to exist and can be expected to be available at trial, it would be wrong to give summary judgment because there would be a real, as opposed to a fanciful, prospect of success. However, it is not enough simply to argue that the case should be allowed to go to trial because something may turn up which would have a bearing on the question of construction: ICI Chemicals & Polymers Ltd v TTE Training Ltd [2007] EWCA Civ 725."

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