High Court Denies Group Litigation Order in Military Personnel Hearing Loss Case due to Compliance and Access to Justice Concerns

Citation: [2023] EWHC 2839 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the recent High Court decision in David Abbott & Ors v Ministry of Defence [2023] EWHC 2839 (KB), a range of complex legal issues surrounding Group Litigation Orders (GLOs) are addressed. The judgment provides a robust analysis of the governing law on GLOs and reflects on important considerations, such as procedural compliance, access to justice, the binding effect of GLO judgements, and the practical utility of such orders in specific contexts.

Key Facts

The case involves claims for damages by military personnel for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). A significant number of claimants represented by Hugh James Solicitors (HJS) were seeking to manage these claims under a GLO; however, this application faced opposition from numerous firms representing other claimants. Despite support for the GLO from the defendants, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the application was brought into question by various factors including the absence of applicant procedural compliance with Practice Direction 19B, the extent to which judgements would be binding in GLO vs non-GLO cases, and concerns over the practical utility in terms of access to justice, case disposition, and duplication of litigation efforts.

Group Litigation Orders (GLOs)

The central legal principle examined is the criteria and purpose of a GLO as per CPR 19.21 to CPR 19.26 and Practice Direction 19B (PD19B). A GLO can be used to manage claims that raise common or related issues of fact or law. The principle of “res judicata” and the doctrine of precedent are considered significant factors in deciding whether the GLO’s lead case outcomes would bind other related claims.

Compliance with Practice Direction 19B

The judgment underscores the importance of procedural steps before applying for a GLO. The applicant must consult the Law Society’s Multi Party Action Information Service, and solicitor groups must harmonize their approach and come to a consensus on the GLO issues, a process HJS did not adhere to.

Access to Justice

The court emphasized that granting a GLO must not impede the access to justice for claimants and must consider any potential delay or disadvantage to their compensation claims.

Binding Effect of Judgments

Clarification of the extent to which findings in GLO test cases bind related actions was sought and analyzed.

Utility of a GLO

The court evaluated whether a GLO would effectively save costs and promote judicial economy, taking into account the factual sensitivity of NIHL cases and the established history of their independent adjudication.

Outcomes

The court found that the threshold requirements for a GLO were not met and dismissed the application. It recognized the significant factual differences among individual claims and the potential adverse effects on access to justice for non-HJS represented claimants. It also detailed the MoD’s formal stance regarding whether findings in lead cases would be binding in other claims, ultimately contributing to the decision to deny a GLO in this instance.

Conclusion

The High Court’s decision not to grant a GLO in David Abbott & Ors v Ministry of Defence reflects a meticulous application of the legal principles associated with group litigation. Although a GLO might potentially facilitate the management of multiple related cases, the exigencies of the individual claimants’ access to justice and the factual nuances of their claims were paramount considerations. The ruling offers guidance on the appropriate circumstances under which a GLO may be sought and underscores the importance of compliance with procedural directives. The case highlights the delicate balance courts must maintain between streamlining complex litigation and maintaining the integrity of individual claims within the justice system.

Related Summaries