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To admit, not admit or deny, that is the question

With a growing number of claims being dealt with by litigants in person, we thought a basic understanding of formal legal pleadings and the options may be helpful.

In some cases, for example, a simple debt collection matter, the claim form may be quite straightforward, including perhaps a summary of the contract, when it was entered into, the terms breached, the amount involved. However, some cases involve a more complicated history of dealings and factual allegations which may not be documented.

It is a common scenario for a defendant, when receiving a court claim, to go through the various allegations one by one, and to have a different response to each allegation.

So, for example, you receive a claim about a contract. That contract is fully documented. In that circumstance, the defendant perhaps ought to admit that there was a contract. To deny something that is obviously correct is not going to help your credibility with the court later one iota.

The claim may also then allege something along the lines of “on 25th January 2012 the defendant telephoned us and advised that he no longer wanted the goods. We attempted to resell the goods but were unable to do so and consequently we suffered a loss in the sum of  ….

The defendant may dispute that he or she made the phone call alleged – if the defendant is adamant that no such call happened, he or she should answer that allegation with a denial – it simply didn’t happen.

As regards the next part of the allegation – that the claimant took steps to resell goods and to mitigate loss, the defendant, at the stage he or she receives the claim form, will not be in a position to answer that. Only the Claimant knows the truth, so this is where it is appropriate to answer this allegation by not admitting. This, in effect is saying :-

“I don’t know whether the claimant is telling the truth about what he says, I can’t deny it as I don’t know, so I will adopt a neutral position and put him to proof of his claim”.

So, it is common for a defence to include a variety of admissions, non-admissions and denials. Where there is a denial, it would be expected that the defendant will also state the alternative version of events if there is any, rather than a bare denial, simply saying that the claimant is lying.

The above indicates the complexities of pleading a case and the implications of getting it wrong can be very significant. It is also important to be aware that in cases other than straightforward debt collections, it is also common for a lawyer drafted claim to put forward legal claims in the alternative, under a number of different labels, so that if one argument fails, there is secondary or alternative argument that may succeed. A good example of this would be a negligence claim for a pavement fall, where it would be standard to make claims for both :-

  • breach of statutory duty under the Highways Act 1980
  • common law negligence

A separate post on this issue will follow later this week.

Shmuel Portnoy - litigation solicitor

Shmuel Portnoy – litigation solicitor

If you are a claimant with a complicated claim or a defendant who have received a claim form and would benefit from some help in drafting the claim or defence, please get in touch with me, I can help.



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