I attended a summary judgment hearing at the High Court in London earlier this year as part of my contentious Corporate Recovery seat. The civil procedure rules (CPR) have an overriding objective to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost. With this in mind, the rules allow either party to apply for summary judgment before the hearing of the case. This is essentially for circumstances in which one party is confident that the merits of their case alone are so strong and their oppositions so weak, that it is unnecessary to dedicate time and expense to a full blown trial. A summary judgment hearing allows the parties to present their legal and factual submissions to the judge who decides whether the case can be decided at this stage, instead of trial. Parties prepare in much the same way as for trial, they must provide disclosure, submit witness statements and instruct counsel.
The allocation to the High Court in London reflects the substantial value in dispute and of course heightened the feeling of tension. The court room next door had attracted much media attention and was full with reporters. As The Rolls Building is the court which deals with some of the most high profile disputes between businesses, it was not surprising to see a media presence.
The main proceedings of our case had been on-going for some time and as we acted for the claimant, we had applied to the court for summary judgment. Civil litigation is a core module on the LPC, in fact, on the course I was asked to make a summary judgment application as part of my advocacy assessment. There are two limbs that must be satisfied in order for summary judgment in favour of the claimant to be granted:
- the court must be satisfied that the defendant has no real prospect of success; and
- there is no other compelling reason why the case or issue should be heard at a trial.
Therefore all the goal posts were the same except the values, risk to reputations and grievances were multiplied tenfold.
The hearing was a culmination of much work between us, the client and counsel. Success at trial is of course determined by the merits of the case but the collaboration between the legal team and client is essential. An eye for detail, knowledge of the law and organisation are all key in ensuring that the time in court is as successful as possible.
Being privy to conversations and developments between our legal team, I could identify why and how counsel brought emphasis to certain elements of his submissions and used the supporting legal precedent to bolster his arguments. By the end, tensions were of course raised, as the judge had been coy in not giving any indication as to which argument he favoured, scrutinising each barrister equally. With great relief, judgment was delivered in our favour. It was an occasion for celebration and a moment which made me understand the feeling of triumph that draws people into the world of litigation.
The mechanics of the court system and how cases are brought to trial is all neatly laid out in the CPR. The rules govern each stage and provide a framework for cases to be heard in a fair and efficient way. Whilst this sounds a systematic and orderly approach to managing a contentious situation, the sums in dispute, reputations on the line and hours in preparation formulating a concise argument makes you realise that the formality is masking the greatest human instinct, to win.