Pleadings in civil cases: what are they & how they work

Today I am going to talk about pleadings in civil cases.

Pleadings are the initial court documents that plaintiffs and defendants file into the court file when a civil action is initiated.

Generally, there are different types of pleadings that are used in civil cases.

Here I will cover;

  • Meaning of pleadings in civil cases
  • Examples of pleadings in civil cases
  • Functions of pleadings in civil cases
  • Amendment of pleadings
  • Etc.

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What are pleadings in civil cases?

Pleadings in civil cases is a legal term that connotes the presentation of one’s claim (case) before the court. Generally, pleadings comprise two things; the documents which are presented before the court in preparation for the suit and the process of preparing those documents.

Examples of pleadings

The most common pleadings in the civil case include;

  1. Plaint/complaint
  2. A written statement of defense/answer to the complaint
  3. Reply to the written statement of defense
  4. Sett-off
  5. Defense to sett-off
  6. Counterclaim
  7. Defense to counterclaim
  8. Etc.

A Plaintiff’s pleading is his Complaint (or petition or bill) and a Defendant’s pleading is his answer to the complaint.

Sometimes a Plaintiff may file a reply to the answer to the complaint – such a reply forms part of his pleading.  Or Defendant may file a rejoinder; this also forms part of his pleadings.

Plaintiff’s reply to the Written Statement of defense and Defendant’s rejoinder is called subsequent pleadings.

NB: the hearing of the suit will not commence until the pleadings are complete.

Functions of Pleadings in a civil case

Pleadings serve three purposes:

  1. Pleadings inform the court about the nature of the parties’ case by identifying the area of controversy between the parties.
  2. Pleadings serve the purpose of bringing the parties to the issue. i.e. they establish litis contestation
  3. Pleadings put the dispute on record. They define the area upon which the decision of the court is sought and they put those areas in the court. Once there is a decision the matter becomes res judicata.

“The whole object of pleading is to bring the parties to an issue and the whole meaning of the rules was to prevent the issue from being enlarged which would prevent either party from knowing when the cause came on for trial, what the real point to be discussed and decided was. In fact, the whole meaning of the system is to narrow the parties to definite issues and thereby to diminish the expense as delayed especially as regards the amount of testimony required at the hearing.”

Thorp V. Holdworth (1876) 3 Ch. D. 637,639 (Leading Case)

“the object of the pleading is to bring the parties to a trial by concentrating the attention on the matter in dispute so as to narrow the controversy to criticize issues and to give notice to parties on the nature of the testimony required on either side in support of respective cases”.

Ladli PD v. Kanal and C (1963) SC, 1279

Principles of Pleadings

The followings are the general principles that govern the preparation of pleadings.

Pleadings must contain material facts only and not evidence, law, etc. i.e. set forth in your pleadings all the material facts on which you rely for your claim or evidence.

State facts concisely but with precision.  It is not necessary to allege any matter of fact that the law presumes in your favor or to which the burden of proof lies with your opponent

In pleadings, the facts are to be divided into paragraphs and numbered consecutively.

Pleadings must be dated, verified, and signed by the party/ his legal representative. The object of verification is to fix responsibility on the party pleading and to prevent false pleadings from being recklessly filed or false allegations recklessly made.

NB: Pleading which is not signed/ verified is ineffective and therefore the Officer of the court may reject it.

Check out this written statement of defense to see how the above principles are observed

principle of pleadings

Rejection/Struck Out Of Pleadings

The law empires court to reject and strike out pleadings when it may appear fit to do so. The circumstances which may lead to rejection or struck out of the pleadings are;

  1. Where the pleadings or certain parts of the pleadings are unnecessary.
  2. When the court is of the opinion that such pleadings do embarrass the opponent eg. where the pleadings are so ambiguous that your opponent will be unable to understand them.
  3. Where the court is of the impression that the pleadings tend to prejudice that opposite party.
  4. Where the court is of the opinion that the pleadings will tend to delay a fair trial.
  5. Where the court is of the opinion that the pleadings offend governing principles as stipulated by law.

NB: Once the pleading is rejected, the probable remedy is to file a new one, or when circumstance renders it necessary, pray for the amendment.

Amendments of pleadings

As a general principle courts have the discretion to order the amendment of the pleadings at any stage.

Thus, instead of rejecting the pleadings, the court may order the pleadings to be amended accordingly.

The amendments of pleadings are ordered only for the purposes of making the existing pleadings clear. They are made to elaborate on the cause of action pleaded.

Amendment will not be awarded where the effect of granting it will be to introduce a new course of action. Also, an effect of the amendment is not to substitute the cause of action for a new cause of action

Isack Kimaro
Isack Kimaro

Isack Kimaro brings over 7 years of extensive experience in professional writing. My career has been dedicated to mastering the art of clear, effective communication, essential for successfully professional correspondence.