Appeal Court confirms jurisdiction to grant summary judgment in defended plenary proceedings
The Court of Appeal has confirmed that the High Court has an inherent jurisdiction to grant summary judgment in plenary proceedings where although a defence has been filed, there is no valid answer to the plaintiff’s claim.
The summary process allows for judgment to be given on affidavit evidence without the need for a full plenary trial. It is characteristically seen in claims for liquidated damages.
However, in this case,1 Pilkington J granted summary judgment in defended plenary proceedings concerning fishing rights as she was satisfied that there was no valid defence to the claim. In doing so, she followed the approach taken in Abbey International Finance Ltd v Point Ireland Helicopters Ltd (“Abbey International”)2 .
The defendants appealed, arguing that the judge had been wrong to proceed in this way.
Abbey International case
In Abbey International, Kelly J held that the High Court enjoyed an inherent jurisdiction to grant summary judgment in respect of a defended unliquidated claim, provided it was satisfied that the defendant had failed to identify any arguable defence and it was clear that the defendant had no defence.
Quite apart from this inherent jurisdiction, he was also satisfied that in the Commercial List, under the wide powers set out in O63A RSC, it was open to a plaintiff to seek summary disposal of defended plenary proceedings where there was no real or bona fide defence. The ability to bring such an application promoted the objectives for which the Commercial List was established, namely the “speedy, efficient and just determination of commercial disputes”.
He said that the test applicable to a grant of summary judgment for a liquidated claim also applied in the context of an unliquidated claim.
Comments of the Court of Appeal
This approach has now been upheld by the Court of Appeal who said that the principle set out in Abbey International had not been doubted. In addition, there was also no valid reason why that principle, as it related to the inherent jurisdiction of the court, ought to be confined to commercial cases alone.
However, Whelan J also said that a conservative approach should be adopted to an application to dispose of a plenary suit summarily. She referred to the key tests set out in Harrisrange Ltd v Duncan3 and applied them to the case before her.
She added that great care should be taken by the court in bringing plenary proceedings to an end summarily, but the balance of justice required that where a purported defence disclosed no reasonable answer to the plaintiff’s claim, the court had an inherent jurisdiction to grant summary judgment where this was warranted, having duly considered all material facts for the appropriate management of litigation and of the courts.
She was satisfied that the decision in Abbey International had been correctly applied by the trial judge. The defendants here had no valid defence. She dismissed their appeal.
This judgment provides welcome confirmation for plaintiffs in plenary proceedings that there is potentially an effective and less costly route to judgment where although a defence has been filed, the defendant clearly has no answer to the claim but may simply be seeking to delay the inevitable.
Although the Court of Appeal made it clear that the principles set out in Abbey International have never been doubted, there have been relatively few written judgments citing their application. It remains to be seen whether this will now change.
- Inland Fisheries Ireland v Ó Baoill  IECA 266.
- Abbey International Finance Ltd v Point Ireland Helicopters Ltd  IEHC 374.
- Harrisrange Ltd v Duncan  4 I.R. 1.
This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.
Select how you would like to share using the options below