Pleadings are the formal documents parties must file with the court before a case. Pleadings should clearly outline a plaintiff’s claim and a defendant’s response to the claim. They present all allegations of fact relevant to a party’s case but generally should not include the evidence by which those facts are to be proved.
The precise terms of documents or spoken words must not be stated in pleadings, unless relevant to the claim or defence. A party does not need to plead a fact if it is presumed by law to be true. Parties may amend pleadings with leave of the court at any time. The court may refuse leave if an amendment should not, in justice, be allowed.
Pleadings are set out in numbered paragraphs, with each matter put in a separate paragraph. A pleading must be as brief as the nature of the case allows.
Why are pleadings necessary?
First, pleadings ensure a party has the opportunity of meeting the case against him or her. They must provide such particulars of any claim, defence or other matter pleaded to enable the other party to identify the case they must meet. In setting out key facts that will support each party’s case at the start of legal proceedings, pleadings avoid injustice that may arise when a party is taken by surprise.
Second, pleadings assist in identifying the issues to be resolved through legal proceedings. They also save parties and the court expense by ensuring the case stays within the bounds of matters pleaded.
Striking out a pleading
A court can strike out any pleading if it does not disclose the facts required to raise a proper claim or defence. An example of this is where allegations are made in the pleadings that are irrelevant to the claims or defence, such that no reasonable case is disclosed.
Additionally, the court may strike out any pleading if it has a tendency to cause prejudice, embarrassment or delay, or otherwise abuse the court process. This may occur when the pleadings are unintelligible, ambiguous, or vague, and therefore likely to embarrass the other party because they cannot understand the case against them.
Difference between the Pleadings and the Particulars
You must file particulars of any claim, defence or other matter you rely on in your pleadings. The main way particulars differ from pleadings is that they give specificity and background to more general assertions made in the body of the pleading. However, the facts asserted in the pleading must be sufficient, by themselves, to outline the party’s case.
The Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) has special rules providing that particulars of certain matters be provided for:
- Negligence and breach of statutory duty in tort;
- Out of pocket expenses;
- Exemplary damages;
- Aggravated damages;
- Claims under the Property (Relationships) Act 1984 (NSW).
For example, claims in negligence require particulars that state the facts and circumstances which constitute the alleged negligent act or omission. Particulars may be amended after the evidence in a trial has closed, but failure to do so will not stop the plaintiff seeking a verdict on their claim alleged by facts established by the evidence.
The final part of a pleading should inform the court and other parties of the relief sought. For breach of contract, remedies sought may include damages, recovery of court costs and legal fees, and any other order as the court determines.
In summary, pleadings serve the essential function of providing a statement of the case that is clear enough to ensure the other party has a fair opportunity to meet it. They also determine the issues to be decided in litigation to reduce delay and questions that could be answered by a document that clearly sets out the material facts supporting a claim or defence.