Summary judgment is an application that can be brought during proceedings if one party believes that it has an overwhelmingly strong case. Essentially, a party can obtain summary judgment if it is able to clearly demonstrate that its opponent has no real prospect of succeeding in the litigation. That may sound straightforward enough but, in practice, a debtor can avoid summary judgment if it is able to convince the court that its case is worthy of further consideration. As no oral evidence can be given on a summary judgment application, it will only succeed if the applicant can establish the strength of its case on paper alone. Summary judgment is not appropriate in cases in which the Judge needs to hear oral evidence from the parties to determine who is telling the truth.
The advantages of Summary Judgment
It is generally much quicker to go for summary judgment than to await trial. Whilst there is wide divergence from court to court, on average a summary judgment application will be listed approximately six to eight weeks after it is issued whereas most cases will take at least six months and often considerably more, to reach trial.
Provided that an application is made reasonably early in proceedings, then summary judgment is much cheaper than going to trial. When advising you as to whether a summary judgment application is appropriate, we will be in a position to give you an estimate of the costs implications.
Attendance at court
There is no need for anybody from your company to attend court on a summary judgment application, although you are of course welcome to do so. As indicated above, the court will not hear any oral evidence which is why no attendance is required. However, at a trial all of your witnesses must attend the hearing which clearly will disrupt your business.
The disadvantages of Summary Judgment
Will it succeed?
The main disadvantage of summary judgment is that a Defendant need only create a smokescreen in order to successfully avoid summary judgment. The court will not analyse the issues in any great detail and so an application will only be successful if a case is overwhelmingly in your favour.
Costs if unsuccessful
If you lose the summary judgment application, then it is likely that you will be ordered to pay your opponent’s costs, usually within 14 days. If you do lose, then the case will still proceed to trial in the normal way but even if you are ultimately successful at trial you will have lost both your own costs of the summary judgment and any costs that you are ordered to pay to the Defendant.
Costs even if successful
If your application does succeed, then the court rules provide that unless the court is satisfied that the Defendant has behaved unreasonably, then the costs to be recovered against the Defendant are limited to £350. Save for the most straightforward of applications, the costs of a summary judgment application are likely to be much higher than this. Whilst we will argue that the Defendant ought to pay all of your costs, it does differ significantly from Judge to Judge as to what is considered to be unreasonable behaviour by a Defendant. There may therefore be some shortfall in the costs you recover although this shortfall is likely to be significantly less than the potential shortfall if the matter proceeds all the way to trial.
Summary Judgment is a very useful device for dealing with defences which are spurious. In every debt claim we deal with, we will consider whether or not summary judgment is appropriate and advise you accordingly.