In this, the second of my series of ten, I consider Statements of Case and other pleadings. At first sight, this is a dry subject. That seems to me to do the subject an injustice but also to understate its importance.
I distinguish between Statements of Case and pleadings on the one hand from briefs, written submissions, skeleton arguments etc, on the other. There is a sound intellectual basis for that distinction, reflecting their nature and the stage of the proceedings at which they come. However, in reality all of them are pieces of written advocacy designed to help the party achieve the result that it wants.
Getting Statements of Case and pleadings right is critical.
It seems to me that three questions to ask before preparing a Statement of Case arise about any given document:
- What are the rules?
- What is its purpose ?
- What devices can be used to make it as effective as possible?
It may sound trite advice but it is nevertheless very sound. Look at the rules for the Tribunal for which the Statement of Case is being prepared. In Court in England and Wales, look at the Civil Procedure rules to see what a Statement of Case must contain. For example, Particulars of Claim must include a concise statement of the facts on which the Claimant relies. If the Claimant seeks interest a statement to that effect must be set out as well (CPR 16.4). By contrast the Defence must state which of the allegations of Particulars of Claim the Defendant denies and which he is unable to admit or deny and which he requires the Claimant to prove and those which he admits (CPR 16.5(i)). The effect of not pleading something is also dealt with.
The rules don’t just mean the CPR. They also the mean the relevant practice direction. A salutary lesson for practitioners is found in the decision of the Commercial Court in Tchenguiz v Grant Thornton  EWHC 405. The judge was most unhappy about the pleading exceeding the 25 page limit of the Commercial Court. It was not just its length. The judge said that the operative part of the Statement of Claim was preceded by some 50 pages of narrative, containing assertions of fraud, falsity, dishonesty and improper motive which were not at that stage particularised. The judge said that this style was typical of Complaints in US litigation where pleadings served different purposes and different rules applied. He went on to say that the approach had no place in English civil procedure. It was clear he was not impressed, to put it mildly. Explain yourselves. Start again. No costs of the first go.
Consider the Forum
The principle that in Court you plead facts and not evidence (the distinction between which is easier to apply than to describe) may well not apply in other types of dispute resolution. In Arbitration, institutional rules may define the content of the Statement of Case. In the ICC, the Request for Arbitration must take a particular form. Equally the answer must take a particular form. In others, which are not dealt with by particular institutional rules, the Arbitrators or other dispute resolvers may set the ambit.
There is no point in not following the rules. All that it does is put your party at risk and the distract attention from the real point. The current approach of the English Courts is to be very authoritative and rigorous. Whether that is a good thing or not, there is no point in going against the flow.
Without in any sense derogating from the need to have been aware of and to comply with the rules, it is also critical to ask what the Statement of Case is seeking to achieve. In Tchenguiz, the defence of the pleading was that one of its purposes was to demonstrate to the Defendants the seriousness of the claim. It is important not to underestimate the potential for collateral purposes i.e. to set up for example a Mediation or to persuade the Defendant and those who support it, of the strength of the case against them and the issues that they face. However, distorting the form and content of Statements of Case for that purpose is dangerous. The key thing about Statements of Case (as we shall consider later in this series of written submissions) is that they are part of the process of persuading the Court or Tribunal of the correctness of the party’s case.
Of course, the position differs between each Court or Tribunal but a Statement of Case is an integral part of getting a case ready for trial and decision. A Statement of Case needs to be in a form that facilitates the going forward of the case that it is advancing. If it is a Court Statement of Case, it needs to provide the agenda for the factual evidence and the expert evidence and to make clear the facts relied upon in order to establish the causes of action.
In Arbitration, and depending upon the rules and directions of the Arbitrator, the Statement of Case may have a greater purpose. It may be a more detailed recitation of the case intended to remove some of the steps that would otherwise be dealt with later. I deal with what can be contained and annexed to heavy Statements of Case below. The key, though, is to know what the document is trying to achieve.
I have heard it said that some Statements of Case are intended to show how much the person drafting it knows about the case. I am sure that that is not the position very often but it does not seem to me a good idea. The person to persuade how the good case is is the Judge or Arbitrator. If opponents, clients and the like are similarly persuaded, so be it but do not distort the pleading just for that purpose.
It is best to consider this topic by looking at the two extremes. One is the elegantly drafted Particulars of Claim complying with the CPR and the practice direction which pleads the material facts concisely and nor evidence. At the other end of the spectrum is the heavy Statement of Case which tells the whole story of the case – facts and evidence – and which has annexed to it documents, witness statements and experts’ reports.
Which of these is the best idea? This question may be answered by the first two questions – what are the rules and what is sought to be achieved? To my mind, the key thing is to decide where between those two extremes the Statement of Case should lie, and then work out what to provide. Very often people do not think about that question until too late.
Break the Mould
If one is supplying documents, then it is critical to organise them in a user friendly way. Try chronological! Break the mould. Tabbing documents in no particular order has never struck me as a brilliant idea. It is much better to have a simple bundle and cross-reference. The benefit of that is that it means that an omission can be noticed by either party and cured by being added to the bundle so that one does get a run, where the correspondence makes at least some sort of sense. There is nothing more dangerous than a document that is apparently helpful but out of context.
If there are to be witness statements, then they need to be drafted by the witnesses (and again there will be another article about this in the series ) in a way that takes account of the fact that they are being provided before there has been joinder issues on the Statements of Case. Pre-trial exchanges may have meant that witness statements are a safe thing to disclose early. But there is a real danger that witness statements served at that stage deal with the issues seen through the prism of one party rather than across the position more generally.
A similar point applies to experts’ reports. Again there will be a separate article on experts in this series. In the meantime let me content myself by saying that an expert who provides a report at the start of litigation risks that report getting out of date or not being focussed or being incomplete or having missed out some particular document by it being served at that stage.
All of those are dangers that somebody serving a very detailed Statement of Case at that stage must worry about.
Of course this article is not a complete guide to Statements of Case. One thing, however, is clear. Statements of Case are the foundations of proceedings. You know what they say – if you have dodgy foundations then you are in trouble from the beginning.