NI: High Court finds statement can be read in court without initiating full proceedings

The Northern Ireland High Court of Justice has found that the appropriate method for making a statement in court when the parties have agreed their dispute prior to the issuing of proceedings is for a summons to be issued.

The procedural question was whether the parties had to issue proceedings, consequently incurring the court fees involved, or whether there was another procedural route they could adopt.

The plaintiff had not issued a writ of summons, but had issued a summons seeking permission to read the statement. The summons had been served on the defendant.

The Court noted that there were a variety of circumstances when an individual might wish to make an application to the court in circumstances where proceedings had not been issued, for example in cases of “urgency” where there is insufficient time to issue proceedings, or when an individual intends to issue proceedings but also wishes to make an application to the court prior to doing so, perhaps for anonymity or reporting restrictions.

The Court noted that there is no specific rule contained within the Rules of the Court of Judicature (Northern Ireland) 1980 governing the position where a party wishes to make an application to the court despite there being no proceedings, but that it was apparent that discretion could be exercised as to whether to require an undertaking that proceedings are to be commenced.

It was observed that if proceedings have been commenced then the mode of making an application is generally by summons, under Order 32, Rule 3. The question was therefore whether the court could endorse that as the appropriate method of making an application for a statement to be read in open court in circumstances where no proceedings have been issued.

The Court was informed by the plaintiffs’ solicitors who practice both in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland, that as a matter of practice proceedings in England and Wales do not have to be commenced. Rather an Application Notice is issued seeking permission to read a statement in open court. If the proceedings have not been issued then the space for the claim number on the notice is simply left blank.

The Court described this as realistic pragmatism.

The Court noted that the ability to make a bilateral or unilateral statement in open court facilitates settlement see Winslet v Associated Newspapers Ltd EWHC 2735 and Murray v Associated Newspapers Ltd EWCA Civ 488 E.M.L.R. 21.

It observed that “A statement in open court provides a valuable means for vindication for a plaintiff because it can be reported freely under the privilege which protects fair and accurate reports of proceedings heard in public and will normally receive some press and media coverage.”

“The willingness of a defendant to join in a statement, expressing acceptance, that the words were false, together with a suitable expression of contrition, can be the subject of negotiations prior to the issue of proceedings. If the defendant is willing to join in a statement in open court then that could influence the plaintiff’s attitude to the amount of damages which are sought in the negotiations.”

The Court found that it was therefore for the Court to be encouraging and to facilitate the settlement of actions, and that to require that proceedings be issued by way of a writ of summons when the action is settled and when all the parties wish to achieve is to have an agreed statement read in open court, would lack proportion.

The Court therefore found that a proportionate approach would be to require the parties to issue a summons rather than to issue proceedings.

If the application to read a statement in open court turned out to be not as simple and straightforward as envisaged, then the Court acknowledged that there may be circumstances in which there would be a requirement of an undertaking to be given that proceedings would be issued.

Concluding, the Court found that if it was incorrect in the conclusion that a write of summons was unnecessary, then it considered that there “has been no adverse effect of non-compliance with any rule in relation to the beginning of or purporting to begin any proceedings.”

  • by Rachel Killean for Irish Legal News
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