On 18 April 2018 the Supreme Court issued a judgment that interpreted the meaning of the term 'completion of the pleadings' as the start of the time limit for issuing an application for directions in accordance with Order 30 of the Civil Procedure Rules (For further details please see "Supreme Court disapproves strict interpretation of Order 30 of Civil Procedure Rules").(1)
According to the judgment, the pleadings in the first-instance case, in which the appellant had been the plaintiff and the respondent the defendant, were completed on 14 June 2016. However, the plaintiff did not issue a call for directions within the applicable 30-day time limit. Further, the defendant did not issue a notice of the plaintiff's failure to issue the call for directions, which would have given the plaintiff an additional 30 days to file the request for directions. Ultimately, the plaintiff issued three different summonses for directions on 18 and 27 October 2016 and 31 January 2017. However, it was not explained to the court why three calls were made and they were not mentioned in the decision under appeal.
A final call for directions was issued on 4 April 2017, the same day on which a call for directions issued by the defendant in relation to third-party proceedings was to be heard. At the hearing, the plaintiff contended that he had been unable to issue the call for directions until the pleadings between the defendant and the third party had been completed and that he should not have been required to do so until then. The pleadings between the defendant and the third party had been completed on 28 December 2016. This raised the question of why the plaintiff had already issued two calls for directions prior to that date if he believed that the call for directions could not be issued until the pleadings between the defendant and the third party had been completed.
Examining the matter ex officio, and notwithstanding the consensus of all parties to the contrary, the first-instance court found that:
- there had been a breach of Order 30, Rules 1(a) and (c), as they read at that time; and
- the whole action should be regarded as abandoned.
The court therefore dismissed the case. As a result, the third-party proceedings were also automatically revoked. An appeal was filed against the decision.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court noted that Order 30, Rule 1(c) provides no room for saving the claim if the relevant deadlines have expired. The first-instance court had no discretion in this regard, otherwise "the claim would be deemed to be abandoned and would be rejected by the Court". The Supreme Court then considered the appellant's argument, with which the other parties agreed, that the time limit under Paragraph 1(a) of Order 30 had not begun with the completion of the pleadings between the plaintiff and the defendant, but rather with the completion of the pleadings between the defendant and the third party.
The meaning of the phrase 'completion of pleadings' in Order 30 of the Civil Procedure Rules had always been defined by and in connection with Order 26, Rule 11 with reference to the initial parties: "Where a pleading subsequent to reply is not ordered, then, at the expiration of seven days from the delivery of defence or reply (if any)".
This concept does not include pleadings relating to third-party proceedings. Consequently, procedures under Order 30, Rule 1, which have the completion of the pleadings in the above sense as their starting point, should proceed as planned and otherwise apply the strict, unconditional provision of Order 30, Rule 1(c).
The Supreme Court therefore upheld the first-instance judgment acknowledging that the strict wording of Paragraph (c) left no room for deviation. As the Practice Direction issued on 28 July 2017 makes clear, although the revised version of Order 30 included an amended Paragraph (c), it did not alter the date on which time starts to run. Instead, it provides that if after completion of the pleadings it appears at the first call for directions that other procedures are pending between the parties for which additional pleadings need to be exchanged, the court will have the discretionary power to postpone the case until the completion of the latter pleadings. Consequently, any party that intends to file additional proceedings, such as any third-party procedure or the service of notice between co-defendants, must notify the court and the other parties involved at the earliest opportunity.
The Supreme Court judgment differed to that in Tasou Christou v Charlambou C Hatzisolomi,(2) to which it had been referred. In that case, the appeal was allowed not because the parties had consented to a waiver of the deadlines, but rather because the first-instance court had wrongly failed to consider the reply to the defence which the plaintiff had filed.
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