Dilatory Plea

Dilatory Plea
Dilatory Plea
Quick Summary of Dilatory Plea

A dilatory plea is a legal strategy that aims to postpone or invalidate a legal action based on procedural grounds. It does not question the merits of the case but instead focuses on technicalities. For instance, a defendant may file a dilatory plea to contest the court’s jurisdiction or the location of the case. This type of plea does not address the core issues of the case but rather seeks to dismiss it based on procedural matters. Another example of a dilatory plea is a plea in abatement, which objects to the timing, place, or method of asserting the plaintiff’s claim but does not dispute the validity of the claim itself. In summary, a dilatory plea is a legal manoeuvre employed to delay or invalidate a legal action without engaging with the substance of the case.

What is the dictionary definition of Dilatory Plea?
Dictionary Definition of Dilatory Plea

A dilatory plea is a legal response that an individual accused of a crime can present in court. Rather than indicating guilt or innocence, its purpose is to impede or halt the progression of the case. There are two primary categories of dilatory pleas: those that question the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case and those that seek to terminate the case for alternative grounds.

Full Definition Of Dilatory Plea

A dilatory plea is a procedural device used in common law jurisdictions to delay or dismiss a lawsuit without addressing the substantive issues at hand. This legal overview will explore the nature, types, historical background, and application of dilatory pleas within the British legal system. The examination will include a discussion on the strategic use of dilatory pleas, their implications for justice, and relevant case law. The goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of this legal mechanism and its role within the broader context of litigation.

Historical Background

The concept of dilatory pleas has its roots in early English common law. Traditionally, these pleas were employed to delay the progression of a lawsuit or to challenge the procedural aspects of a case. In medieval England, the legal system was heavily procedural, and the proper form and timing of pleadings were of paramount importance. Dilatory pleas emerged as tools to exploit procedural defects or to delay proceedings until a more favourable time.

Over time, the use of dilatory pleas evolved. By the 19th century, their application had become more refined, and they were recognised as legitimate procedural tactics within the adversarial system. However, the misuse of dilatory pleas to unjustly delay proceedings led to reforms aimed at curbing such practices and ensuring that justice was not unduly postponed.

Types of Dilatory Pleas

Dilatory pleas can be categorised into several types, each serving a distinct procedural purpose. The primary types are:

  1. Plea to the Jurisdiction: This plea challenges the authority of the court to hear the case. It asserts that the court does not have jurisdiction over the subject matter or the parties involved. For example, a defendant might argue that the case should be heard in a different jurisdiction where the events occurred.
  2. Plea in Abatement: This plea aims to delay the proceedings based on some procedural defect or irregularity. Common grounds include misjoinder or non-joinder of parties, improper service of process, or incorrect venue. If successful, this plea does not result in dismissal but rather in correction of the defect.
  3. Demurrer: Historically, a demurrer was a type of dilatory plea that contested the legal sufficiency of the opponent’s pleadings. While it admitted the facts as stated, it argued that even if those facts were true, they did not constitute a legally valid claim.

Strategic Use of Dilatory Pleas

Lawyers may employ dilatory pleas strategically to buy time, seek a more favourable forum, or address procedural flaws. However, the strategic use of dilatory pleas must balance tactical advantages against the ethical obligation to avoid frivolous or vexatious litigation tactics.

Benefits of Dilatory Pleas

  • Time Management: Dilatory pleas can provide defendants with additional time to prepare their case or negotiate a settlement.
  • Procedural Corrections: Identifying and addressing procedural defects early in the litigation process can prevent future complications and streamline proceedings.
  • Jurisdictional Advantages: Challenging jurisdiction can move the case to a more favourable forum, potentially benefiting the defendant.

Risks and Ethical Considerations

  • Delaying Justice: Excessive use of dilatory pleas can unjustly delay proceedings, impacting the plaintiff’s right to timely justice.
  • Costs: Unnecessary delays can increase litigation costs for all parties involved.
  • Reputational Damage: Overuse of dilatory tactics can damage the credibility of the party employing them and the integrity of the legal system.

Case Law and Application

Plea to the Jurisdiction

In the landmark case of Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 AC 147, the House of Lords addressed the issue of jurisdiction. The court held that a decision made outside the jurisdiction granted by statute was a nullity. This case underscores the importance of jurisdictional challenges as a form of dilatory plea.

Plea in Abatement

The case of Smith v Brown (1703) 2 Salk. 664 provides an early example of a plea in abatement. In this case, the defendant successfully argued that the plaintiff had incorrectly named one of the parties, leading to the abatement of the action until the proper parties were joined.

Modern Applications

Modern courts continue to see the use of dilatory pleas, though their application is more regulated. In O’Reilly v Mackman [1983] 2 AC 237, the House of Lords reinforced the principle that procedural challenges should be raised early in the litigation process. The case involved a challenge to the procedural propriety of bringing judicial review proceedings rather than an ordinary action.

Procedural Rules and Reforms

The Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) in England and Wales have significantly reformed the use of dilatory pleas. The CPR emphasises the overriding objective of dealing with cases justly, which includes ensuring that cases are dealt with expeditiously and fairly. Key provisions relevant to dilatory pleas include:

  • CPR Part 3: This part gives courts wide case management powers, including the power to strike out cases that are frivolous or vexatious.
  • CPR Part 11: This part specifically addresses challenges to jurisdiction, requiring that such challenges be made promptly and supported by evidence.
  • CPR Part 17: This part deals with amendments to pleadings, allowing for the correction of procedural defects identified through pleas in abatement.

Implications for Justice

The use of dilatory pleas has significant implications for the administration of justice. While they serve important procedural functions, their misuse can undermine the efficiency and fairness of the legal process.

Ensuring Procedural Fairness

Dilatory pleas can ensure that cases proceed on a correct procedural footing, preventing miscarriages of justice due to procedural errors. By addressing jurisdictional issues, misjoinder of parties, and other procedural defects early, courts can focus on the substantive merits of the case.

Balancing Expediency and Justice

The tension between expediency and justice is a central concern in the use of dilatory pleas. Courts must balance the need to resolve cases efficiently with the necessity of allowing parties to raise legitimate procedural challenges. Reforms such as the CPR aim to strike this balance by promoting early resolution of procedural issues while discouraging frivolous delays.

Comparative Perspectives

While the focus of this overview is on the British legal system, it is informative to consider how dilatory pleas are treated in other common law jurisdictions.

United States

In the United States, dilatory pleas are encompassed within various procedural motions, such as motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or improper venue. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) govern these motions, with specific rules aimed at preventing misuse and ensuring timely resolution of procedural issues.


Australian courts similarly regulate dilatory pleas through procedural rules akin to the CPR. The High Court of Australia has emphasised the importance of procedural fairness while cautioning against delays that could hinder the administration of justice.


Dilatory pleas remain a vital aspect of procedural law within the British legal system. They serve essential functions in ensuring that cases proceed on a proper procedural basis, addressing issues of jurisdiction, party joinder, and procedural defects. However, the strategic use of dilatory pleas must be balanced against the ethical obligation to avoid unnecessary delays and ensure timely justice.

Reforms such as the Civil Procedure Rules have sought to regulate the use of dilatory pleas, promoting efficiency and fairness in litigation. By understanding the historical background, types, strategic uses, and implications of dilatory pleas, legal practitioners can navigate this complex area of law effectively, ensuring that procedural challenges are raised appropriately and justice is served.

Dilatory Plea FAQ'S

A dilatory plea is a legal defence strategy used by a defendant to delay or postpone the proceedings in a case. It aims to challenge the jurisdiction, venue, or procedural aspects of the case rather than addressing the substantive issues.

A dilatory plea can be used at the beginning of a case, typically during the arraignment or pre-trial stage. It is employed when the defendant believes there are legal grounds to challenge the court’s authority or the proper conduct of the proceedings.

Common types of dilatory pleas include pleas challenging the court’s jurisdiction, improper service of process, lack of standing, improper venue, or failure to state a cause of action.

Yes, if a dilatory plea is successful, it can lead to the dismissal of the case. However, it is important to note that the dismissal may be without prejudice, meaning the prosecution can refile the case with the necessary corrections or amendments.

If a dilatory plea is denied, the case will proceed to the next stage, such as discovery or trial. The defendant may still have the opportunity to raise the dilatory issues as part of their defence during the trial.

While a dilatory plea is primarily used to challenge legal issues, it can sometimes be employed as a delaying tactic. However, courts are generally cautious about allowing unnecessary delays and may impose sanctions if they believe the plea is being used solely to prolong the proceedings.

Ideally, a dilatory plea should be raised at the earliest opportunity, typically during the initial stages of the case. However, in certain circumstances, such as the discovery of new evidence or a change in circumstances, a dilatory plea may be allowed later in the proceedings.

Yes, a dilatory plea can be raised in both civil and criminal cases. However, the specific grounds for the plea may vary depending on the nature of the case.

In general, a dilatory plea is raised by the defendant to challenge the legal aspects of the case. However, in some instances, the prosecution may also raise a dilatory plea if they believe there are jurisdictional or procedural issues that need to be addressed before proceeding with the trial.

If a dilatory plea is denied, the defendant may have the option to appeal the decision. However, the availability of an appeal will depend on the specific laws and procedures of the jurisdiction in which the case is being heard.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 9th June 2024.

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