Want Of Prosecution

Want Of Prosecution
Want Of Prosecution
Quick Summary of Want Of Prosecution

Definition: Want of Prosecution refers to the situation where an individual initiates a legal case but fails to proceed with it, resulting in potential dismissal of the case. This term is also commonly referred to as lack of prosecution or absence of progress.

What is the dictionary definition of Want Of Prosecution?
Dictionary Definition of Want Of Prosecution

Want of prosecution occurs when a person involved in a legal case fails to continue pursuing it, which can result in the dismissal of the case. For instance, if a plaintiff does not appear in court or neglects to file required documents, the case may be dismissed due to a lack of prosecution. Similarly, a defendant can be found guilty of want of prosecution if they do not respond to legal requests or fail to attend court hearings. These examples demonstrate how the desire for prosecution can lead to the dismissal of a case. It is crucial for all parties involved in a legal case to actively participate and fulfil necessary obligations in order for the case to progress.

Full Definition Of Want Of Prosecution

Want of prosecution, commonly referred to as a “failure to prosecute” in legal parlance, signifies the plaintiff’s neglect in actively pursuing a legal claim or lawsuit. This concept plays a critical role in the administration of justice, ensuring that cases are pursued diligently and expeditiously. This comprehensive overview explores the intricacies of want of prosecution within the context of British law, its implications, and its procedural aspects.

Historical Context and Evolution

The doctrine of want of prosecution has deep historical roots, evolving from common law principles designed to maintain order and efficiency in the judicial system. Traditionally, courts have held that justice delayed is justice denied, prompting the development of mechanisms to dismiss cases that are not actively pursued. Over time, this principle has been codified in various procedural rules and guidelines across different jurisdictions.

Legal Definition and Criteria

Want of prosecution is defined as the plaintiff’s failure to take necessary steps to advance their case within a reasonable timeframe. This inaction can manifest in various forms, such as failing to file necessary documents, not attending court hearings, or neglecting to comply with court orders. The criteria for determining the intent of prosecution include:

  1. Delay Duration: The length of the delay is a primary factor. The courts assess whether the delay is substantial and unreasonable.
  2. Plaintiff’s Conduct: The plaintiff’s behaviour and efforts to move the case forward are scrutinised. Any evidence of neglect or indifference can support a finding of want of prosecution.
  3. Prejudice to the Defendant: Courts consider whether the delay has prejudiced the defendant’s ability to mount a defence. This can include the loss of evidence, fading memories of witnesses, or other detrimental impacts.
  4. Meritorious Case: The inherent merit of the case is also evaluated. A strong case may be less likely to be dismissed for want of prosecution compared to a weak or frivolous claim.

Procedural Aspects

The procedural rules governing the want of prosecution are encapsulated in the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) in England and Wales. The relevant provisions are primarily found in Part 3 and Part 24 of the CPR.

Applications to Strike Out

A defendant may apply to strike out a claim for want of prosecution under CPR 3.4(2)(b), which allows the court to dismiss a case if it appears that there has been an abuse of process or if the claimant has failed to comply with a rule, practice direction, or court order. The process involves:

  1. Filing an Application: The defendant must file an application notice, supported by evidence detailing the plaintiff’s inaction and its consequences.
  2. Court Hearing: A hearing is typically held where both parties present their arguments. The court evaluates the evidence and determines whether the plaintiff’s conduct warrants dismissal of the case.
  3. Judicial Discretion: Judges exercise broad discretion in these matters, balancing the need to uphold procedural rules with the overarching aim of delivering substantive justice.

Summary Judgement

Under CPR 24.2, a defendant can seek a summary judgement if they believe the plaintiff has no real prospect of success and there is no other compelling reason for a trial. This mechanism is often employed in conjunction with or as an alternative to a strike-out application for want of prosecution.

Judicial Considerations and Precedents

British courts have established various precedents outlining the considerations and thresholds for want of prosecution. Key cases include:

  • Birkett v James [1978] AC 297: This landmark case set out the two primary grounds for dismissal for want of prosecution: (1) inordinate and inexcusable delay, and (2) substantial risk that a fair trial is no longer possible or serious prejudice to the defendant.
  • Allen v Sir Alfred McAlpine & Sons Ltd [1968] 2 QB 229: The Court of Appeal emphasised the importance of plaintiffs prosecuting their cases with reasonable diligence and the courts’ duty to enforce this principle to prevent abuses of process.

These precedents underscore the judiciary’s role in balancing the rights of plaintiffs to have their cases heard against the necessity of efficient and fair judicial administration.

Impact on Parties

The consequences of a finding of want of prosecution are significant for both plaintiffs and defendants.

For Plaintiffs

  • Case Dismissal: The most immediate consequence is the dismissal of the case, often with prejudice, meaning the plaintiff is barred from re-filing the same claim.
  • Cost Orders: Plaintiffs may be ordered to pay the defendant’s legal costs incurred as a result of the delay.
  • Reputational Damage: A dismissal for want of prosecution can damage a plaintiff’s credibility and standing, particularly if they are a frequent litigant.

For Defendants

  • Resolution of Case: Defendants benefit from the resolution of the case without the need for a full trial, saving time and resources.
  • Cost Recovery: Defendants may recover costs from the plaintiff, which can partially offset the expenses incurred during the litigation process.
  • Precedent and Deterrence: Successful applications for dismissal can serve as a deterrent against frivolous or dilatory claims, promoting more diligent prosecution of cases.

Strategic Considerations for Litigants

Both plaintiffs and defendants must navigate strategic considerations in relation to the want of prosecution.


  • Timely Action: Plaintiffs must ensure timely compliance with procedural requirements and court orders to avoid dismissal.
  • Proactive Case Management: Regular communication with legal counsel and active involvement in the case is essential to demonstrating diligence.
  • Contingency Planning: Plaintiffs should anticipate potential delays and have contingency plans to address unforeseen issues that might hinder the prosecution of their case.


  • Monitoring: Defendants should monitor the progress of the case and document any delays or failures by the plaintiff.
  • Prompt Applications: When appropriate, defendants should promptly apply for dismissal for want of prosecution, supported by detailed evidence of the plaintiff’s inaction.
  • Negotiation and Settlement: In some instances, highlighting the risk of dismissal can prompt plaintiffs to settle the case, providing a more efficient resolution.


Want of prosecution is a critical doctrine in British civil litigation, ensuring that cases are pursued with due diligence and that the judicial system operates efficiently. It provides a mechanism for defendants to seek relief from protracted litigation caused by plaintiffs’ inaction while also reinforcing the importance of procedural compliance. Both plaintiffs and defendants must navigate the procedural landscape carefully, balancing the pursuit of justice with the need for efficient and timely resolution of disputes. The interplay of legal principles, judicial discretion, and strategic considerations makes the desire for prosecution a nuanced and pivotal aspect of civil litigation in the UK.

Want Of Prosecution FAQ'S

“Want of prosecution” refers to a situation where a plaintiff fails to actively pursue or proceed with a legal case, leading to its dismissal by the court.

Yes, if a plaintiff fails to take necessary steps to move the case forward, such as attending hearings, submitting required documents, or actively participating in the legal process, the court may dismiss the case for want of prosecution.

Common reasons for want of prosecution include lack of interest or motivation to pursue the case, inability to afford legal representation, settlement or resolution of the dispute outside of court, or the plaintiff’s failure to comply with court orders or deadlines.

In some cases, a dismissed case for want of prosecution can be reinstated. However, the process and requirements for reinstatement vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the case. It is advisable to consult with an attorney to determine the options available.

Yes, if the plaintiff fails to actively pursue the case, the defendant can file a motion to dismiss for want of prosecution. The court will then evaluate the circumstances and decide whether to grant the motion.

In certain situations, the court may order the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s costs if a case is dismissed for want of prosecution. However, this is not automatic and depends on the specific circumstances and the court’s discretion.

Yes, even if a plaintiff is represented by an attorney, a case can still be dismissed for want of prosecution if the plaintiff fails to actively participate or cooperate in the legal process.

If a plaintiff is unable to attend court hearings due to valid reasons, such as illness or other unavoidable circumstances, it is important to inform the court and seek appropriate accommodations. Failure to do so may result in a case being dismissed for want of prosecution.

While settlement negotiations can delay the progress of a case, it is generally expected that the plaintiff actively communicates with the court and the defendant regarding the status of negotiations. If the plaintiff fails to do so and does not take the necessary steps to move the case forward, it may be dismissed for want of prosecution.

If a plaintiff is waiting for evidence or witnesses, it is important to inform the court and seek appropriate extensions or accommodations. However, if the plaintiff fails to actively pursue obtaining the necessary evidence or witnesses, the case may be dismissed for want of prosecution.

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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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