Insights Group Litigation: Court of Appeal clarifies when a single claim form can be issued


The Court of Appeal has provided helpful clarification on the circumstances in which it is permissible for multiple claimants to bring claims in a single claim form, overruling a previously restrictive interpretation of the relevant Civil Procedure Rules.

The case before the court concerned a claim for negligence brought by 134 claimants against their former solicitors in relation to advice on investments in one or more of nine separate development projects. A single claim form was issued on the basis that the claimants argued that there were sufficiently common issues for the claims to be managed together. In turn, the defendant solicitors brought an application for the claim to be struck out, arguing – among other things – that it was an abuse of process to include so many claimants on a single claim form, particularly when a claim in negligence would turn on the specific advice given and the particular relationship between each individual client and the solicitor.

At first instance, HHJ Jarman KC considered the recent decision of the Divisional Court in Abbott v. Ministry of Defence [2023] EWHC 1475 (KB), in which it was held that it was not an abuse of process for over 3,000 claimants to join together in an action with a single claim form.

The Court in Abbott analysed the relevant Civil Procedure Rules, in particular CPR 7.3 that states that “[a] claimant may use a single claim form to start all claims which can be conveniently disposed of in the same proceedings” and CPR 19.1 which provides that “[a]ny number of claimants or defendants may be joined as parties to a claim”. Andrew Baker J added a gloss to these provisions, introducing what was later called the ‘real progress test’ for determining if all claims in a single claim form can be conveniently disposed of in the same proceedings: “if there are likely to be common issues of sufficient significance that their determination would constitute real progress towards the final determination of each claim in a set of claims, that could be enough for a conclusion that common disposal rather than separate disposal of that set of claims would be convenient”.

Applying Abbott, HHJ Jarman KC dismissed the solicitors’ application at first instance.

The solicitors appealed to the Court of Appeal, arguing that Abbott was wrongly decided and that CPR 7.3 and 19.1 “severely restrict” the situations in which numerous claimants can bring separate claims in one claim form (arguing, for example, that the reference to “[a] claimant” who can use a simply claim form in 7.3 is singular and does not, in context, include the plural, and that the word “claim” in 19.1 means “a cause of action”, and not, as the Divisional Court in Abbott held, “proceedings).

The Court of Appeal dismissed the solicitors’ appeal. In so doing, it not only rejected the solicitors’ “questionable” construction of CPR 7.3 and 19.1, but also overruled the various tests promulgated in Abbott (including the ‘real progress test’) insofar as they excluded cases from the ambit of the relevant Civil Procedure Rules. Delivering the judgment of the Court, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos said: “It seems to me that 19.1 and 7.3 must be construed as meaning what they say: any number of claimants or defendants may be joined as parties to proceedings, and claimants may use a single claim form to start all claims which can be conveniently disposed of in the same proceedings. There is no exclusionary rule of real progress, real significance or otherwise. The court will determine what is convenient according to the facts of every case.”

The Master of the Rolls also added that it would be valuable for the Civil Procedure Rules Committee to have “another look” at the provisions governing multiple claimants bringing their claims in a single claim form “with a view to considering whether the existing rules are working well” or whether there should be further requirements beyond the question of convenience, such as the need for there to be common questions of law or fact.

The judgment can be read in full here.