In a recent appeal case, the Supreme Court overturned a first-instance judgment regarding the timing of the completion of the pleadings and, consequently, the deadline for filing a summons for directions under Order 30 of the Civil Procedure Rules.1
At the time of the events that gave rise to the litigation, Order 30 required claimants to file a summons for directions within 30 days from the completion of the filing of the pleadings. In the case in question, the defendant filed his defence on May 19 2016. Although the claimant should have filed his reply to the defence within eight days, he did not do so until January 26 2017, eight months after the deadline, with the consent of the defendant, but without having obtained the prior leave of the court. The summons for directions was filed on February 2 2017.
The claimant argued that, as the defendant had given his consent to the reply being filed after the deadline had expired, the pleadings should be treated as having been completed when the reply was filed on January 26 2017. On this basis, the filing of the summons for directions seven days later was within the timeframe allowed under Order 30.
However, despite the fact that the defendant had consented to the late filing, the first-instance court dismissed the action on the basis that the summons for directions has been filed out of time. In the view of the first-instance court, the pleadings were completed on May 26 2016, when seven days had elapsed from the filing of the defence without the claimant having filed a reply. The first-instance court ignored the agreement between the parties and held that pleadings are complete (and the timeframe allowed for filing a summons for directions commences) as soon as the reply has been filed or, if the claimant fails to file a reply, when the seven days allowed for the filing of a reply have elapsed.
The Supreme Court overturned the first-instance court's judgment, citing its decision in an earlier case where the Supreme Court had found that the summons for directions had been filed on time, based on similar circumstances.2 Further, the Supreme Court stated that, according to the Annual Practice, the opposing party's consent is sufficient to achieve a time extension and an application for a time extension is needed only if the opposing party does not provide consent.
The Supreme Court said that:
- the first-instance court had interpreted Order 30 too harshly; and
- its finding that the summons for directions had not been filed on time and its consequent decision to dismiss the action were incorrect.
The court therefore set aside the first-instance judgment and held that the action should continue from the stage of summons for directions.
The Supreme Court seems to disapprove an over-rigid approach to interpreting the timeframe within which pleadings are deemed to be completed in order to avoid an unjust outcome, especially in cases where the parties agree. While this approach is welcome in the sense that it may foster a collaborative approach between the parties, it makes the scheduling of cases less certain and increases the risk of delays.
The Supreme Court's more flexible approach may have reflected concerns that the 30-day limit was too short, which led to the limit being increased to 90 days in July 2017. Although the judgment in question examined the previous version of Order 30, it is useful for litigation lawyers as it clarifies when pleadings are deemed to have been completed, which remains the starting point for the deadline to file a summons for directions.
1 Tasou Christou v Charlambou C Hatzisolomi, Civil Appeal 175/2017, February 6 2018.
2 Civil Application 76/17 in relation to the application of Charoulla Demesthenous, February 2 2017.
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