On 25 July 2023, His Honour Judge Jarman KC dismissed an application made by a defendant in the High Court to strike out a claim form issued on behalf of 134 claimants by Penningtons Manches Cooper partner David Niven and senior associate Nicole Blakey.
The 134 claimants had invested in nine different developments with nine different SPV sellers promoted by Northern Powerhouse Developments Limited (in liquidation).
Each claimant paid (and lost) a large sum of money to acquire a leasehold interest in a hotel or lodge in one or more of the nine developments: the total claim value is in excess of £10 million. The claimants retained the defendant solicitors to advise them on their transaction. In January 2023, the claimants issued a single claim against the defendant for professional negligence arising out of that advice.
The claims on behalf of all 134 claimants were issued on one claim form. The defendant applied to strike out the claim form, contending it was an abuse of process and that each claimant ought to have issued their own individual form. The High Court disagreed and dismissed the defendant’s application.
In his judgment, Jarman J referred to the recent decision of the divisional court in Abbott v Ministry of Defence  EWHC 1475 (KB). In Abbott, Dingemans LJ and Andrew Baker J considered the meaning of CPR 7.3 when confirming that, subject to the test of convenience, it is not an abuse of process for multiple claimants to join in an action with a single claim form.
CPR 7.3 provides that ‘a claimant may use a single claim form to start all claims which can be conveniently disposed of in the same proceedings’. When deciding whether it is appropriate for multiple claimants to use a single claim form, the claimants should be satisfied that they can demonstrate ‘that it is convenient for the determination of the multiple claims to be achieved in the same, ie, a single set of, proceedings, rather than in multiple sets of proceedings’ Abbott, paragraph 66.
Andrew Baker J held at paragraph 70 that ‘what would surely make it convenient for there to be only one set of proceedings is that it would be useful and helpful, indeed highly desirable in the interests of justice, for significant common issues of fact and (it may be) all issues in at least some of the claims to be tried in such a way that, thereafter, in the context of each claimant’s individual case the findings made would be binding on both the claimant and the MoD.
‘The governing principle, therefore, is not whether there is a large number of claimants and/or causes of action. Rather, it is the convenience of disposing of the issues arising between the parties in a single set of proceedings. The degree of commonality between the causes of action, including as part of that the significance for each individual claim of any common issues of fact or law, will generally be the most important factor in determining whether it would, or would not, be convenient to dispose of them all in a single set of proceedings’ - paragraph 71.
In the present case, the defendant’s arguments included that a professional negligence claim is different to a personal injury claim (the type of claim before the court in Abbott), that the claimants’ claims are disparate in fact and law, and that there are no common issues which will dispose of any two claims brought by the 134 claimants.
The claimants’ position, with which Jarman J agreed, was that there is commonality of obligations owed by the defendant to the claimants, commonality of causes of action, breach of duty, and loss. Whilst individual issues do arise for some claimants, significant commonality exists and therefore it is convenient, and helpful, for the issues between the parties to be disposed of in a single set of proceedings.
This decision has reinforced the divisional court’s approach in Abbott, which will be of interest to all those involved in group claims outside the GLO regime.
Permission to appeal was refused by Jarman J.