Group Claims Breakthrough: Claimants in Group Litigation Can Use a Single Claim Form
On 16 June 2023 the Divisional Court (Dingemans LJ and Andrew Baker J) handed down judgment in the expedited appeal in Abbott v Ministry of Defence  EWHC 1475 (KB) which confirms that it is permissible for claimants in group litigation to use a single ‘omnibus’ claim form to commence proceedings so long as the claims can be conveniently disposed of in the same proceedings.
The Abbott claims themselves concern noise-induced hearing loss alleged to have resulted from exposure to excessive noise levels whilst the 3,550 claimants were on military service. All of the claimants are represented by Hugh James Solicitors who, on 28 June 2021, used a single claim form in the name of David Abbott together with a schedule containing the names and addresses of the balance of the cohort to start the claims. There was some urgency to issue to avoid the implementation date two days later of an Act concerning limitation in claims brought by service personnel and veterans for overseas operations, so it was clearly important to the claimants to preserve the validity of the June ’21 claims.
Neither party appeared to want a formal group litigation order, but agreed the claims gave rise to generic issues and agreed a lead case process of common case management proceeding to a single lead claim trial: a similar approach to that adopted in
The Abbott claims are just one set of EL litigation against the MoD at the moment. They include the Bargh claims for non-freezing cold injuries brought by 45 service personnel in which, in December 2019, Senior Master Fontaine had ruled that a single claim form should not have been used as the claims had very little in common save the type of injury and defendant.
At a case management hearing in July 2022 and of his own motion Master Davison decided that it was impermissible under CPR, parts 7 and 19, for an ‘omnibus’ claim form to have been used. Each claimant (other than Mr Abbott himself) had to issue a new claim form and pay the appropriate court fee. The claimants appealed. In the meantime the consequences were pretty stark – over 3,000 claimants issued individual claim forms, many claimed fee remission but Hugh James still had to pay £430,000 in over-charging of issue fees and the court office was overwhelmed resulting in long delays such that by May 2023 142 claim forms had still not been issued.
Giving the lead judgment, Andrew Baker J allowed the appeal concluding that Master Davison was wrong to forbid the use of a single claim form as:
- CPR 19.1 provides that any number of claimants (or defendants) may be joined as parties to a claim i.e. to a set of proceedings commenced by a single claim form under Part 7 (or equivalent);
- The CPR therefore provide no absolute limit on the number of claimants on a single claim form and weight of numbers is not relevant, without more, to resolving the issue.
- The qualification to that is CPR rule 7.3 and its test of convenience. A single claim form should only be used to start multiple claims ‘which can be conveniently disposed of in the same proceedings’. As the White Book says in note 7.3.5 that is the sole test.
- The governing principle is the convenience of disposing of the issues arising between the parties in a single set of proceedings. The most important factor in determining ‘the convenience test’ will generally be the degree of commonality between the causes of action, including as part of that the significance for each individual claim or any common issues of fact or law.
Given the ambiguity of the position beforehand this judgment was handed down, it is likely to be welcomed by all parties involved in group litigation as a significant cost saving measure.