Any number of claimants or defendants may be parties to legal proceedings, subject to the caveat that it must be possible to ‘conveniently dispose’ of multiple claims in the same proceedings. It is attractive to claimant firms to bring ‘class action’ type claims on behalf of many individuals in a single claim form, for example for ease of management, to minimise court fees or because of an approaching limitation deadline. In David Abbott & 3,449 others v Ministry of Defence the High Court of England and Wales provided further guidance on when it is permissible to do so.
The High Court’s Decision
The claimant firm commenced military noise deafness claims against the Ministry of Defence on behalf of 3,500 claimants on a single claim form. The court decided that the approach was clearly impermissible, noting that:
- The claims ‘… have a common defendant and a number of common themes. But that is all. They otherwise present a huge variety of unitary claims’, which are ‘far too disparate in terms of the periods and circumstances in which each claimant sustained his or her [losses] to be heard together’.
- There could not be a single trial of all the claims. Determining a smaller selection of lead cases would not resolve or fully resolve the remainder, which would have to be separately litigated.
- Managing 3,500 separate claims on one claim form would put an impossible strain on the court’s computerised case management system, which in a single case would need to accommodate all the documents and steps taken in multiple claims.
- The way the claims were being managed is analogous to procedures implemented under a Group Litigation Order (‘GLO’) (which is the English opt-in system for managing multiple claims which give rise to common or related issues of fact or law). A GLO requires individual claimants to issue a claim form and pay the relevant court fees. The court saw no reason to treat these claimants differently (nor claimants represented by other firms who had issued individual claims).
The court directed that individual claim forms be issued within six months, or the claims will be struck-out. This was described as a generous period to allow the claimant firm to deal with the issue of court fees and review all the claims to assess which would be taken forward.
Claimant firms are likely to view this decision as an outlier in a case where there was far less commonality between the claims than may exist in other circumstances. There are other examples of multiple claims being issued on a single claim form which have been accepted into the GLO process, or where such claims have been resolved before the issue of a GLO or through other case management processes. Limitation issues and concerns about the level of Court fees for individual claim forms will continue to drive claim forms being issued on behalf of multiple claimants. Whether this is a legitimate means of issuance will need to be scrutinised on a case-by-case basis.
 Civil Procedure Rules (‘CPR’) 19.1
  EWHC 1807