The High Court has held that it was disproportionate to strike out claims for abuse of process solely on the basis that the claimants (Cs) had deliberately understated the value of their claims to reduce the court fees payable. However, where C had failed to pay the correct court fee within the limitation period, judgment was granted in favour of the defendant, D.
D applied for 31 negligence claims against it to be struck out on the basis that Cs had not paid the correct court fees on issue. D alternatively applied for judgment to be entered against C summarily (without a trial) on the grounds that although the original, lower, fee was paid within the limitation period for several of the claims, the correct fee was paid after it had expired.
Cs' correspondence with D had indicated claims amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds; on issue, however, some were valued at only a few hundred. The claim forms were later amended, before being served, to claim for the original, much larger, sums and the balance of the issue fees were paid. D argued that C had made a deliberate attempt to understate the value of its claims in order to issue quickly to prevent its claims from being time barred.
The court granted D's application in part: although the court was under no doubt that the conduct amounted to procedural abuse, it would be disproportionate to strike out the claims for that alone. Doing so would cause greater prejudice to Cs than to D, given that the claims were arguable. Also, there was no suggestion that Cs' conduct had been fraudulent or dishonest.
However, a claim will only be brought within the relevant time limit if the claim form is delivered to the court with the appropriate fee before the limitation period expires. The appropriate fee had not been paid with the original claim forms. Unfortunately for Cs the correct fee had been paid outside the limitation period for some of the claims, so they were time-barred and judgment was given for D.
The decision shows the importance of paying the correct court fee on issue and the perils of issuing towards the end of the limitation period.
Lewis and others v Ward Hadaway  EWHC 3503 (Ch).