What Is The Overriding Objective In Civil Claims?
Posted on 30th March 2020
A recent Order in favour of a Claimant against a Defendant, highlighted the important of walking the line between supporting your case and hindering the Justice process. This is, after all, not a criminal matter where you have the right to say “no comment” in interview and decline to testify at Trial, but a civil matter where the Court expect both sides to speak up and to provide the relevant evidence and documents.
What happened in Serco v Ministry of Defence?
Serco, a Fire and Rescue Services provider, put in a bid to the Ministry of Defence for a contract to provide £1.1 billion worth of their services. They were unsuccessful but believed that they were unfairly ruled out from the bidding process. They made a request to the MoD for copies of various documents, including the scoring process for their bid, which was declined and so they made an Application to the Court for an Order compelling disclosure.
The MoD waited until the day of the Hearing of the Application at the High Court before agreeing to the vast majority of the request. The High Court did not take kindly to this, the Court’s time being precious and most importantly there being specific obligations in the Civil Procedure Rules, at the very top, named the Overriding Objective.
What is the Overriding Objective?
The Overriding Objective is detailed at the very start, Paragraph 1.1 of the Civil Procedure Rules. The Overriding Objective states “These Rules are a new procedural code with the overriding objective of enabling the court to deal with cases justly and at a proportionate cost”. In short, the point is that both parties are expected, as far as is possible, to assist the Court and to cooperate with each other in narrowing the issues, because the Court is a highly stretched and much used resource.
How did the MoD fail here?
The Overriding Objective is intended to be borne in mind when reading and following any of the subsequent 88 Section of the Civil Procedure Rules and all other ancillary Rules, Practice Directions and Proceedings.
In this case, the MoD did not adhere to Part 31, regarding Disclosure, or the Pre-Action Protocols where it is expected that parties will exchange information and evidence between each other as early as possible, the objective being to eliminate the need for the Court at all, either by showing the potential Claimant that they are mistaken in their case, or showing the Defendant that the Claimant does indeed have a valid point.
What did the High Court say?
Serco’s Application Hearing went ahead, with Mr Justice Fraser saying the MoD’s conduct was “well outside the norm” and Ordering them to pay £80,000.00 indemnity costs. Indemnity costs are penalty costs for a party whom the Court believe have acted particularly badly in any instance.
Does this mean that Serco have won their case?
No, it does not, this was simply an issue about disclosure, before the case itself gets fully underway. At this point, there is no indication that Serco have a valid claim, although it is unlikely that the MoD’s conduct does not speak well of their belief the documentation will support their assertion of impartiality in the bidding and decision process.
Why is this important to my case?
The same legal principles apply to each and every case in the Civil (non-Criminal) arena. Both parties are expected to ‘play the game’ and to get the case to a point where, if they cannot agree a conclusion, the Court can make a decision on the matter in the shortest time possible.
If you believe you have a strong case, either as a Claimant or a Defendant, you are expected to set out your stall and make it clear to your opponent that you have. If you don’t comply with the Overriding Objective, you may find yourself on the wrong end of such a costs Order as the MoD did.
Ultimately, the MoD might have a completely valid Defence and Serco may be completely wrong in their belief, however, for their reluctance to disclose the requested documents they are now £80,000.00 the poorer and any subsequent Judge who looks at the Court’s file, will see what happened. This could potentially colour any Judge’s view of the MoD later in the case and if the case is finely balanced, sway the final decision against them.
MG Legal, your solicitor in Garstang, have extensive experience of the Court process and most importantly, how to settle cases without going there at all. If it is necessary to go, we will ensure that you are well advised and notified of any requirements in advance, so you don’t end up in the position the MoD did.
How to ensure I don’t fall foul of the Court system?
Instruct MG Legal, your solicitor in Garstang, to help you though your case. We have specialist departments dealing with all common areas of Law, including Personal Injury, Property, Family and Children and Wills and Probate matters.
We offer Conditional Fee Agreement (no win, no fee agreement) retainers for Personal Injury claims and for most of our other work, we offer fixed fee services.
Contact MG Legal, your solicitor in Garstang, to discuss how we can help you. We are happy to hear from you by phone, email, web-contact form or at one of our offices in Garstang, Lancaster or Longridge. We aim to speak to you and to get the ball rolling the same day so that you have the peace of mind your case is being handled by the right people and there is no delay in your case.
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