The defendant failed in an application to strike out several claims brought against it on the grounds that there had been an abuse of process by the claimants for not paying the appropriate issue fees when bringing the claims in 2012-2013. The defendant alternatively, and successfully, applied for summary judgment in some of the claims on the grounds that they were time barred.

The claimants in question had paid court fees reflective of claims valued significantly lower than the values referred to in pre-action correspondence. However, following the issue of proceedings but before service, each of the claim forms was amended, increasing the value of the claims, with the balance of the court fees being paid. The claimants acted in this way to reduce the fees initially paid to the court.

The court made it clear that the claimants had used the court process for a purpose or in a way which was significantly different from the ordinary and proper use of that process, and so held it was an abuse of process to understate the value of a claim so as to pay a reduced court fee and to stop the limitation period from running. However, as the conduct only caused limited harm to the defendant, but considerable prejudice to the claimants, about £9 million worth of whose claims would be statute-barred, the court concluded that the misconduct was not sufficiently serious to strike out the claims.

Nevertheless, summary judgment was granted in relation to 11 of the 31 claims on the grounds that they were time barred. It was held that these 11 claims, which were only to be regarded as “brought” once the claim form is delivered to the court with the “appropriate fee” (as per Page v Hewetts Solicitors [2012] EWCA Civ 805), could not be deemed “brought” until the balance of the court fees were paid.

The judge, Mr John Male QC, sitting as a Deputy Judge, stated that he could foresee circumstances in which payment of a lesser fee at the outset could be acceptable, e.g. where a “financially strapped” claimant informs the defendant of imminent receipt of substantial funds, seeks agreement from the defendant to pay the court fees in “instalments”, and informs the court of what he is doing. In other words, it might be acceptable where there is “complete transparency” and the agreement of both the defendant and the court.

Although the claims were made before the recent substantial increase in court fees, this decision comes in its wake, and serves as an important reminder to claimants to utilise the court process in a way which does not differ from its proper use, valuing claims at genuine amounts and paying court fees as appropriate.