High Court: pleadings define the issues

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

Case Overview

The case concerned a lessee who undertook alterations to his leasehold property without obtaining explicit consent from the lessor. The issues were 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.

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

The Claimant appealed the decision; the appeal succeeded on ground 1 which was: 

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 granted the appeal because at first instance the Judge had based his decision on a defence – the impact of the alterations on the structural integrity of the building – that was never formally pleaded.

Fancourt J stated 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 Ground 1 underscores this principle.

At [65] Mr Justice Fancourt stated as follows:

“[...] 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 that litigation must stay within the boundaries set by the parties’ pleadings.  The Court’s emphasis on the inappropriateness of basing decisions on unpleaded issues highlights the critical importance 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]

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).


The High Court's ruling in Jacobs serves as a reminder of procedural fairness and the importance of pleadings as a vehicle for stating one's case. In affirming that decisions cannot be founded on issues that are not explicitly pleaded, the Court has preserved the principle that each party is to be fully informed of, and prepared for, the case which they must address.

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