The court struck out a claim form and particulars that were "hopelessly vague and uninformative" and stressed that extensions of time must not go through "on the nod"
This High Court decision illustrates the danger of failing to particularise claims properly and seeking extensions of time without proper justification. Here, the failure to clearly state the claim resulted in it being struck out and summary judgement given in the defendants' favour. Separately, the Court emphasised the importance of making a sound case for applications for extensions of time.
The claimant, Mr Mehdi Khosravi, alleged that some of the defendants (the Al Aqili defendants) were prepared to use violence to achieve their goal and implied that the defendant BAT companies were prepared to sanction this. His central claim was that the Al Aqili defendants had been involved in a serious assault upon him (with the aim of closing an official inquiry into the smuggling of cigarettes into Iran) and that the defendant BAT companies were responsible, either on a principal-agent or vicarious liability basis. The defendant BAT companies denied liability and argued that Mr Khosravi's pleadings were insufficiently particularised.
Deciding that the claimant's statement of case was "woefully lacking in particulars," and would be struck out (and granting summary judgement to the BAT companies) the High Court remarked that the defendants were entitled to know the nature of the case they had to meet and that the need for cogency and particularity was greater when the pleading alleged criminal behaviour. The BAT companies were entitled to unambiguous clarity and detailed particulars.
When deciding whether to strike out, the Court must consider whether the pleading is a concise and clear statement of the facts relied upon. This exercise could include considering the context in which the pleading had been drafted. Here, however, Mr Khosravi had simply alleged that the BAT companies knew that the Al Aqili defendants would employ unlawful means to secure his acquiescence, and that an unidentified BAT employee had instructed an unidentified Al Aqili employee to do "anything they could" to stop the smuggling investigation. That was, "hopelessly vague and uninformative." It did not enable the BAT companies to discern what case they had to meet and did not demonstrate that they had been involved in the alleged assault.
In relation to the extensions of time which had been granted to Mr Khosravi for the service of the claim form and particulars, the High Court observed that the jurisdiction to extend time under rule 7.6 of the Civil Procedure rules had to be exercised in accordance with the overriding objective and there had to be good reason. The courts would not generally regard impecuniosity as a good reason. Although needing time to gather further evidence might justify a stay once proceedings had begun, the Court observed that it was hard to see how it might justify delaying service of the claim form for 16 months. The Court acknowledged that if a claimant's difficulties were attributable to the defendant's wrongdoing (for example in personal injury or clinical negligence cases), an extension might be appropriate but that was not the case here since "it was a fundamental issue as to whether any of this claimant's problems should be laid at the door of the defendants at all." The Court commented that ordinarily any delay in the normal timetable had to be justified and extensions of time were not to be granted "on the nod."