In the recent Commercial Court decision of Abbey International Finance Ltd v Point Ireland Helicopters Ltd, Mr Justice Kelly confirmed that in cases where the relief sought goes beyond the recovery of a debt the Irish courts have jurisdiction to award summary judgment (ie judgment without the need for a full trial) where it is clear the defendant has no defence to the claim. This is a significant development as summary judgment was previously only available for the recovery of liquidated sums where there was no dispute as to liability. However the threshold to prove / demonstrate a defendant has no defence will remain high.
Summary proceedings are decided on affidavit evidence alone without the need for a full trial or the usual process involved in plenary proceedings, such as discovery and oral evidence. Summary proceedings can result in the speedy and cost effective resolution of a dispute but traditionally were only available for disputes involving claims for a specific sum or debt (known as liquidated damages) and where there was no dispute regarding liability. However, the Abbey International case has confirmed that a court can award summary judgment even where the claim is for “non-liquidated damages” (ie a claim which does not seek to recover a specific debt and the damages are instead determined by a court, for example a claim for negligence or breach of contract).
The Abbey International case involved a claim for both specific sums under an aircraft leasing contract (liquidated damages) as well as the return of the aircraft itself (non-liquidated damages). The plaintiff proceeded by way of plenary summons (which is the usual procedure in the High Court for a claim for non-liquidated damages) but contended that there was no defence to any aspect of the claim and applied for judgment for the entire amount of its claim. The court acknowledged that there was no specific power in the Court Rules to permit such an application but decided that the court had an inherent jurisdiction to award summary judgment in a claim for non-liquidated damages and considered that the test to be applied by the court is whether it is clear that the defendant has no case.
It remains to be seen the extent to which summary judgment will now be made available in claims going beyond the recovery of a liquidated debt. However, this development may allow plaintiffs to avoid the more costly elements of litigation, such as discovery, and obtain an enforceable judgment in a shorter period of time where the defendant is without a defence.
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