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Pleadings are paramount

The Paramountcy of Pleadings in Proceedings

Insights from Jacobs v Chalcot Crescent (Management) Company Limited [2024] EWHC 259 (Ch)


In the recent judgment of Jacobs v Chalcot Crescent (Management) Company Limited [2024] EWHC 259 (Ch), the High Court has provided a reminder of the critical importance of pleadings in litigation. This case, arising from a dispute over alterations made by a lessee to a leasehold property without the consent of the lessor, highlights the potential pitfalls of inadequate pleadings and details the boundaries within which judges must operate.

Case Overview

The facts of the case revolved around a lessee who undertook alterations to his leasehold property without obtaining explicit consent from the lessor. The dispute centred on whether these alterations constituted a breach of the lease due to the lessor’s lack of consent and, further, whether the lessor unreasonably withheld such consent.

In the first instance, HHJ Hellman sided with the Defendant, holding that the lessor had not unreasonably withheld consent for the alterations. The decision was predicated on the Judge’s finding that the alterations potentially compromised the structural integrity of the building, despite this constituting a reason that was not pleaded in the Defence.

The Claimant then appealed the decision; his appeal succeeded on ground 1 which was as follows:

It was not open to the Judge to find for the defendant on the only basis that he did (reasonable concern about fire damage to the structure of the building) because that distinct basis of objection to the alterations had not been pleaded, nor had it been fairly raised or addressed as a ground of refusal at the trial.”

[Emphasis added]

The High Court’s decision rested on the recognition that at first instance the Judge had based his decision on a concern – specifically, the impact of the alterations on the structural integrity of the building – that was never formally pleaded.

Moreover, it was highlighted that as HHJ Hellman had rejected all the grounds upon which the Defendant had relied as reasons for withholding consent within its Defence, he should have concluded that consent was unreasonably withheld by the Defendant and found in favour of the Claimant.


Central to the deliberations in Jacobs was the pivotal role of clear and precise pleadings in litigation. The High Court’s decision to allow the appeal on the first ground underscores this principle.

At [65] Mr Justice Fancourt stated as follows:

“For these reasons, the appeal succeeds on Ground 1. It was not open to the Judge to decide the case in favour of the defendant on the basis of an unpleaded issue. Apart from his conclusion on that issue, the Judge rejected all the grounds on which the defendant relied as reasons for withholding consent.”

[Emphasis added]

This affirms the necessity for litigation to be confined within the boundaries set by the parties’ pleadings. Moreover, the Court’s emphasis on the inappropriateness of basing decisions on unpleaded issues highlights the essential nature of pleadings as both a guide and a boundary for judicial deliberation. A further inference that can be drawn from the above is that it is not for Judges to impute defences where they have not been pleaded. Indeed, Judges are obliged to stay within the confines of each party’s pleaded case when reaching a judgment. 

In addition, Fancourt J also clarified at [57] that:

“Further, where an issue has clearly not been pleaded and was not relied on at the start of the trial, I consider that the onus lies as much on counsel for the party seeking to rely on it as on their opponent to raise the matter with the judge”.

[Emphasis added]

Advocates must remain vigilant to ensure that proceedings adhere strictly to the issues as set out in the pleadings. This includes actively challenging any attempt by an opponent or a Judge to introduce matters, or reach decisions based on matters, that are not covered by the pleadings.

Representatives should take adequate care and time to scrutinise the opposing party’s pleadings and be prepared to vigorously submit that reliance on unpleaded issues undermines the fairness and integrity of the judicial process. It deprives a party of a fair opportunity to present their case and respond to the arguments made against them, and ultimately runs contrary to the principles enshrined in case law (now inclusive of Jacobs).

Further, at [64] Fancourt J contrasted the adversarial and inquisitorial systems; he reasoned that in an adversarial system, where the issues are defined by the pleadings, it was not right to confront the issue of structural integrity (when mentioned in passing by a witness during oral evidence) and thereafter, to make it the basis of the decision.


The High Court's ruling in Jacobs serves as a reinforcement of the adversarial legal system's core tenets as well as a reminder of the paramountcy of procedural fairness. By categorically stating that decisions cannot be founded on issues that are not explicitly pleaded, the Court has not only safeguarded the sanctity of pleadings, but it has also ensured the preservation of the adversarial trial's essence, where each party is fully informed of and prepared for the case that they must respond to and confront.

This judgment underscores the necessity of adhering strictly to the issues outlined in the pleadings, and it offers a valuable precedent that should be leveraged by advocates to argue against the consideration of unpleaded issues in Court.

This article was written by 25 Canada Square Chambers Pupil Abdul Qadim.

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