There is a general presumption that where a person files a case in Court, he has the legal right to discontinue the action at any time he so desires during the course of the proceedings. This presumption is right only in circumstances where the adverse party has not joined issues with the discontinuing party by filing relevant processes in Court.
Legal issues are said to be joined in a Court where both parties i.e. the Claimant (the person instituting the legal action) and the Defendant (the person who is defending the legal action) have filed and exchanged their various processes on the issues in dispute between the parties.
Since a Claimant can withdraw his case at any time before judgment is delivered by the Court, at what stage in the proceedings is it beneficial for a Claimant to withdraw or discontinue his case? Is it at the stage where issues have been joined with the adverse party or before the adverse party joins issues with the Claimant?
The above question is relevant because if an adverse party has not joined issues with the Claimant by filing relevant processes in response to the case, upon discontinuance of the case, the Court would grant an order to merely strike out the case. However, if the adverse party has joined issues with the Claimant, upon discontinuance of the case, the Court would grant an order of dismissal of the case.
The effect of a striking out of a case by a Court is that the Claimant has a right to bring the same matter before the same Court or a Court of co-ordinate jurisdiction. However, the effect of a dismissal is that the Court has conclusively decided the case by delivering judgment. Hence the only remedy open to a Claimant in such circumstance is to appeal against the Order of dismissal to a higher Court i.e. from the High Court to the Court of Appeal.
Parties to a Court matter must be careful at what point in the course of the proceedings they choose to discontinue their matters in Court. Usually, proceedings are discontinued in Court as a result of an out of Court settlement. Where an out of Court settlement does not conclusively determine the reliefs sought by a party in Court, it is not advisable to discontinue a case especially where the adverse party has joined issues by filing the relevant processes.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.