A recent decision in the High Court (Various Claimants v G4S plc [2021] EWHC 524 (Ch)) has highlighted the potential pitfalls for claimants when attempting to include new parties into proceedings when a claim form has already been issued and a limitation period has expired. The court held that such additions require consent. The court also took a fairly strict approach to proposed amendments to the parties’ names and to the period covered by the claim form.

Background

Following a government announcement alleging fraudulent billing practices by the defendant company, the value of its shares fell. A group of shareholders issued proceedings claiming that they had purchased and held their shares in reliance on public statements made by the defendant in its annual reports, which had turned out to be false.

The issues

The claim was brought on the last day of the limitation period. Prior to being served, it was then amended on six separate occasions to add or remove claimants.

The defendant applied to strike out the claims of those who had been added to the claim form after issue, on the basis that CPR 17.1 (which deals with amendments to statements of case) could not be used to add new claimants to proceedings after issue but before service, both generally and where there was a potential defence on limitation. Further, under CPR 19.4 (4), a party could not be added as a claimant unless this had been consented to in writing and the consent filed with the court; a requirement which had not been complied with.

The defendant also argued that some claimants had not been properly identified or were not a legal person with appropriate capacity to sue. Further, they noted that the claim form limited claims to the period from 2011 onwards, whereas the particulars of claim sought to extend the claims back to 2006 or earlier.

The claimant cross-applied to amend the claim form to include claims dating back to 2006 and to amend the names of some of the claimants.

The decision

The court struck out the claims of the additional claimants on the basis that CPR 17.1 did not permit new claimants to be added to an issued claim form before service. In an obiter comment, the court said that a claim form signed by a solicitor could not stand as consent for the purposes of CPR 19.4(4). Rather, consent had to be in a separate document, which had to be filed before the new claimant could be added.

The claimant was refused permission to amend the names of certain other claimants after expiry of the limitation period; except in relation to one specific claim where the claimant had been identified by its former name in the original claim form. The court also refused permission for the claim form to be amended to allow claims going back to 2006, as it was impossible to maintain that the new proposed claim arose out of the “same or substantially the same facts” as the existing claims in the proceedings.

The case highlights the importance of getting the parties to a claim right at the outset, and in any event before limitation periods have expired. Late amendments, particularly the addition of new parties to an existing claim form, run the risk of being struck out. Those seeking to amend an existing claim form by adding additional parties must do so by obtaining consent under CPR 19.4(4) rather than under CPR 17.1.

The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of Simon Jacobsen, paralegal in CMS Sheffield, in preparing this article.