What is a summary judgment?
A summary judgment is an application that can be brought by either party during civil litigation proceedings in order to avoid the time and expense involved in proceeding to a full trial. It is known as an interim application and such a judgment may be issued as to the merits of an entire case or of specific issues in that case. The court can also decide to grant summary judgment when neither party has applied for it.
When may the court grant summary judgment?
The court may grant summary judgment if it considers that: the claimant has no real prospect of succeeding with the claim he has brought or the defendant has no real prospect of successfully defending the claim; and there is no other reason why the case or issue should be decided by a trial.
For example, if the claim or defence is of a highly complicated/technical nature, the court may decide that it can only be properly understood if the evidence is given at a full trial. The court may consider circumstances such as these to be a compelling reason for refusing an application for summary judgment.
How do you apply for summary judgment?
As a claimant, it would be sensible to contact a solicitor to ensure that you are able to apply for summary judgment before making an application. This is primarily because the defendant has to file certain documents (an acknowledgement of service or a defence) at the court before the claimant may apply for summary judgment, unless the court otherwise gives permission. On the contrary, a defendant can apply for summary judgment at any time, although in both instances the parties should apply without delay.
To apply for summary judgment, an ‘Application Notice’ form should be obtained from the court and returned to the court with a supporting ‘Statement’. This should set out the reasons why the applicant believes summary judgment should be given. The respondent to the application must be given at least 14 days’ notice of the date fixed for the hearing and the respondent should file any written evidence they wish to rely upon at least seven days before the hearing. An applicant who wishes to rely on written evidence in reply to the respondent’s submissions must file this at least three days before the hearing.
What are the possible outcomes from an application for summary judgment?
If the court agrees that the claim or defence has no real prospects of succeeding at trial and there is no other compelling reason for a trial, it will either grant judgment on the claim (on a claimant’s application) or it will strike out/dismiss the claim (on a defendant’s application).
Alternatively, if the court does not agree with the applicant, it can dismiss the application altogether. The court may make a ‘conditional order’, whereby the opponent pays a particular sum of money into court or takes a particular step in the action. A conditional order is likely where it appears to the court possible that a claim or defence may succeed but improbable that it will do so.
It is generally much quicker and cheaper to apply for summary judgment than to await and proceed to a full trial. However, as the court will not analyse any issues in great detail at this stage, it is important to be aware that a summary judgment application is only likely to be successful if it is overwhelmingly in the applicant’s favour.