Pleaded issues and evidence excluded where introduced on amendment and of insufficient relevance to justify adjourning a trial (Christoforou v Christoforou)

Articles
21 May 2020

Dispute Resolution analysis: In a case where statements of case had been allowed to be amended, the defendant was prevented from adducing evidence about and cross-examining upon a line of argument introduced in the amended defence on the basis that the trial date would be lost and the relevance of the evidence did not justify the consequences which would result from that.

Christoforou v Christoforou [2020] EWHC 1196 (Ch)

What are the practical implications of this case?

This is an interesting demonstration of the court’s case management powers and the continued importance which courts place on trial dates being maintained. At an interim stage of the proceedings, the judge was prepared to strike out part of an amended defence and exclude admissible evidence on the basis that the production of that evidence would have jeopardised a trial date. This was despite the acceptance that the evidence was relevant, albeit its relevance was held to be limited. It is notable that the judge did not feel he needed to leave these issues to the trial judge and does not appear to have considered, in the alternative, allowing the evidence to remain in but penalising the defendant in costs for the adjournment of trial.

What was the background?

This decision arises in proceedings brought by the claimant (Alex) asserting a beneficial interest in a property in London, NW3 (the property). Alex contends that there was a common intention that Alex had a beneficial interest in the property and that he had acted to his detriment in reliance on that intention. The defendants deny that Alex had such a beneficial interest. Permission was given to amend both the particulars of claim and the defence. The amended defence included, for the first time, a counterclaim. Alex applied for an order striking out certain passages of the amended defence and counterclaim (the contested passages) and a direction that the issues in those passages be excluded from consideration at trial and that other than with the leave of the court there be no evidence called and no cross-examination in relation to those matters. The jurisdiction under which the application was made is found in r.3.1(2)(k), CPR. The central issue in the contested passages was an allegation that Alex’s claim for a beneficial interest was part of a series of attempts by Alex (and other family members who opposed the first defendant’s (Chris’s) position in divorce proceedings. The grounds asserted in Alex’s application are:

  • that raising the allegations constitutes an abuse of process because they were previously raised by Chris in other proceedings in the Queen’s Bench Division which have not been meaningfully prosecuted since a stay on them was lifted in 2016
  • the allegations are irrelevant and inadequately particularised, and
  • the allegations give rise to a need for a further substantial and complex round of disclosure, the expense of which is not justified by reference to the peripheral relevance of the allegations to the main claim

What did the court decide?

The judge did not accept the defendant’s submission that the allegations in the contested passages were inherent in the original defence. Nor did he accept that raising the allegations were an abuse of process as a result of the previous proceedings issued in the Queen’s Bench Division in circumstances where those proceedings had not yet concluded. The judge also rejected the defendant’s submission that the contested passages would have only a minor impact on the length of the trial and the cost and expense of preparing for that trial. The judge accepted that at an interim application stage, he was not as well-placed as the trial judge would be to assess the impact the exclusion of that evidence would have on the fairness of the proceedings. Nevertheless, he considered that it was appropriate for him to determine the application himself and not to leave those issues to the trial judge. The judge observed that the approach he was to take to an  application to exclude evidence under CPR r.3.1(2)(k) involved a number of elements. These include the overriding objective, the impact on a party of having a part of a case which it wished to advance excluded, the judgment of professional advocates who have formed the view that an assertion is important to a litigant’s defence of a claim and the impact which the exclusion or exclusion of evidence would have on any trial dates listed. The evidence in the contested passages was found to be similar-fact evidence in that it related to previous matters about which the judge was invited to draw inferences in the present claim. Such evidence is prima facie admissible but is more prone to being excluded on the grounds that it is more likely to raise satellite issues and to be of limited relevance to the pleaded claim. The issue for the judge was whether to exclude it in accordance with his case management powers. After weighing those various factors, the judge excluded the contested passages. Keeping them in would have cost the trial date, something which was unacceptable given the limited relevance of those passages to the main issues. The judge permitted the parties to cross-examine in respect of a small number of discrete matters contained within the contested passages but otherwise they were to be excluded from the trial.

Case details

  • Court: High Court, Business and Property Courts (ChD)
  • Judge: HHJ Eyre QC
  • Date of judgment: 15 May 2020

This article was first published by Lexis PSL on 21 May 2020.

Author

Phillip Patterson

Call: 2008

Disclaimer

This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of Chambers or by Chambers as a whole.

Contact

Please note that we do not give legal advice on individual cases which may relate to this content other than by way of formal instruction of a member of Gatehouse Chambers. However, if you have any other queries about this content please contact:

Sally Wollaston
Sally Wollaston Business Development and Marketing DirectorTel: +44 (0)20 7691 0124Mob: +44 (0)7780 701879