You are no doubt aware that a number of legal proceedings result in trials or full hearings. However, there are also numerous other ways in which the court can deal with claims and applications. In particular, a claim or application may come to an end when one party’s statement of case is “struck out”. The power to strike out a statement of case in family proceedings has recently been discussed in Vince v Wyatt, focussing on how a delay may affect the court’s approach.
When you bring a claim in the civil courts, there are a number of ways with which that claim could be dealt. One obvious route is for the claim to be defended and proceed to trial. However, if the claim is not defended, the claimant may apply for a default judgment. In addition, either party may apply for the other party’s statement of case to be struck out, or for the court to give a summary judgment.
The multitude of routes by which the court can deal with a case is set out in the Civil Procedure Rules (“the CPR”). The CPR give the court extensive case management powers in order to achieve the overriding objective of “enabling the court to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost”.
Clearly it is not appropriate for all of the case management options to be translated from civil cases into family proceedings. Therefore, the family courts are governed by the Family Procedure Rules (“the FPR”). However, in 2010, a new power was introduced into the FPR, allowing the court to strike out a statement of case.
Power to strike out
A statement of case is a written document that discloses the details of the claim or application being made, or a defence to such a claim or application. The power to strike out a statement of case means the power to prevent a party from relying on their statement of case.
Under rule 4.4 of the FPR, the court has four heads under which it may strike out a statement of case: (a) if it discloses “no reasonable grounds” for bringing or defending the application, (b) if it is an abuse of the court's process, (c) if the other party has failed to comply with a rule, practice direction or court order and, in some instances, (d) if the parties consent.
Vince v Wyatt
In Vince v Wyatt, the Court of Appeal considered a case in which Ms Wyatt had made a claim for a financial remedy, but Mr Vince had applied to have her statement of case struck out because (a) it disclosed no reasonable grounds and (b) it was an abuse of the court’s process.
The facts of the case were exceptional in that the parties had been married in 1981, separated in 1984, and divorced in 1992, but Ms Wyatt had only brought her claim in 2011, some 19 years later. The trigger for the claim appeared to be that, in 1996, Mr Vince had founded a company now valued at £90 million.
Although the court initially refused to strike out the statement of case, the Court Appeal agreed to do so, stating that the judge at first instance “had to… exercise his case management powers not just to protect against the greater prejudice but also to husband the resources of the court”.
Therefore, the court may seek to use its power to strike out in order to best apportion the courts resources, refusing to incur the cost of long stretches of court time. In particular, the court may be quick to strike out claims in order to prevent a party from being “harassed by claims for financial relief which (a) are issued many years after the divorce and (b) have no real prospect of success”.