HC Deb 05 May 1964 vol 694 cc1088-9
5. Mr. Lipton

asked the Attorney-General if he will introduce legislation to abolish the power of non-suit in county courts.

7. Sir B. Janner

asked the Attorney-General whether he will make a statement on the right of plaintiffs in county court actions at their request to have their cases non-suited at any time before judgment even after the full evidence on both sides has been heard; and whether he will introduce legislation to remove this right as has been done in respect of High Court actions, or to make the right subject to the discretion of the court which hears the case, in view of hardships which are caused to defendants, particularly when the plaintiffs have been legally represented throughout the hearing.

The Attorney-General

In 1959, the County Court Rule Committee decided that the power of non-suit still served a useful purpose, particularly in cases where the plaintiff is acting in person. Any hardship to defendants can be adequately compensated by the award of costs, as happened in the recent case in which the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) was engaged. The Government agree with the views of the Rule Committee and do not consider that legislation is desirable.

Mr. Lipton

Is the Attorney-General aware that the non-suit procedure operates, apparently, only to the advantage of shady property companies who evade exposure by sliding out of litigation, sometimes at the last minute, and after being represented by counsel in an attempt to exploit poor defendants? Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, whereas this power might be applicable or useful in the case of a plaintiff who is not legally represented, in most cases nowadays the non-suit is operated in the way to which I have referred?

The Attorney-General

I know of only one case in which that has happened. While the non-suit is very rare indeed in litigation, it is exceedingly useful and it is maintained for circumstances in which the plaintiff appears in person and is not represented and is not aware of either the procedure or the evidence that he ought to have brought. It is, therefore, fair to him that he should have an opportunity of putting his case properly if he wishes to bring it again. I agree that if there were any widespread misuse of the power to ask for a non-suit, different considerations would arise.