From 1 October 2015, The Shorter Trial Scheme (“STS”) was opened to claims commencing from that date. Operating out of the Rolls Buildings, this pilot scheme will remain open until 30 September 2018 (with the scheme remaining applicable to those cases commenced within its pilot period). 

Application

A claim in the STS may be started within any of the Rolls Buildings Courts, and can be used in any of the following courts: Admiralty and Commercial Court, the London Mercantile Court, the Technology and Construction Court, and the Patents Court and for business cases in the Chancery Division (PD 51N 2.1 – 2.2).

The time estimate for the hearing must be no more than 4 days including reading time. Longer hearings will fall outside the scope of the STS scheme (PD51N 2.4).

Certain types of cases are considered normally unsuitable for STS. These include cases involving (a) an allegation of fraud or dishonesty; (b) extensive disclosure, extensive witness or expert evidence; (c) multiple issues and multiple parties, save for Part 20 counterclaims for revocation of an intellectual property right. Cases in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court and public procurement cases are also normally unsuitable for STS (PD51N 2.3).

These types of cases are “normally” unsuitable, but there may be circumstances in which a case may nevertheless be suitable for STS. In an unreported case before Simon Bryan QC sitting as Deputy Judge in 2016, the parties agreed to transfer to a STS scheme despite the case requiring expert evidence as to a limited point of foreign law against a backdrop of public procurement (though this was not central to the claims). The transfer into the STS scheme was nevertheless approved. The parameters of “suitability” for STS remain to be fully explored.

Advantages

The advantages of STS are a short time frame, leading to a quicker result, and limitations on the “scope” of proceedings, with potential overall costs savings for the parties. 

The case is tightly managed by a designated judge with a trial date fixed for not more than 8 months after the CMC and with judgment six weeks thereafter.

The key features are as follows:

1) Pre-action protocols do not apply: Standard pre-action protocols are replaced with a simple letter of claim process, with a 14 day response period (PD 51N 2.16 – 2.19).

2) Limitations on the length of pleadings: Particulars of Claim and Defence are each limited to 20 pages (PD 51N 2.22 and 2.31).

3) Limitation of length of evidence: Witness statements are limited to 25 pages (PD51N 2.44). Expert evidence is to be given by written reports, with any oral evidence at trial limited to preidentified issues (PD 51N 2.46). Cross-examination can be strictly controlled by the judge at the trial (PD 51N 2.53 – 2.54).

4) Limited disclosure: Disclosure is greatly reduced, and takes place in a style familiar to arbitration practitioners. Documents relied upon are disclosed with pleadings. Disclosure is then limited to documents of a parties’ case and those requested by the other side. (PD 51N 2.39 – 2.41). Any applications for disclosure will be strictly controlled by the court (and are, in fact, actively discouraged: PD 51N 2.43).

5) Tight procedural timetable: CMC is to be fixed approximately 12 weeks after the date due for Defendant’s acknowledgement of service (PD 51 N 2.25). At the CMC, a trial date is fixed by the designated judge not more than 8 months from the CMC (PD 51 N 2.38(e)). Judgment is to be given within 6 weeks from the end of trial. (PD 51N 2.55). Any appeal is to be treated with expedition reflecting the nature of STS (PD 51N 2.60).

6) Costs: Precedent H budgets are dispensed with, unless the parties agree otherwise. Costs schedules are to be exchanged 21 days after trial, in a format that allows for identification of relevant stages as per a Precedent H form. Save in exceptional circumstances, the court will make a summary assessment of costs in favour of the party awarded their costs (PD 51N 2.56 – 2.59).

As a package, STS is designed to provide parties with a commercially-minded and efficient dispute resolution process.

Transfer into STS

In Family Mosaic Home Ownership Ltd v Peer Real Estate Ltd [2016] EWHC 257 (Ch), Mr Justice Birss confirmed that a case could be transferred into the STS scheme as long as it fulfilled the requirements of suitability. Parties, who have commenced proceedings outside the STS scheme, but wish to benefit from the STS timeframe, may therefore apply to be transferred into the scheme.

Uptake of STS Scheme

As of the time of writing, there were only two reported cases involving the STS scheme: Family Mosaic (above) and a judgment in a case Vitol E & P Limited v Africa Oil and Gas Corporation [2016] EWHC 1677 (Comm). As of September 2016, official statistics show that only 10 cases had started within or been transferred into STS: 5 in the Commercial Court, 4 in the Chancery Division and 1 in the Technology and Construction Court.

The low uptake rate may be due to lack of practitioner familiarity with the scheme, but practitioners should give active consideration to using it. Costs and time savings are considerable: from the experience of the writers, an approximate 20% - 30% saving as against full original budget was achieved. A compact timetable can also help to focus parties’ minds about the key issues in dispute, which can make ADR more fruitful. The lessening of burdens in respect of Precedent H and disclosure, combined with limited evidence, allows both the legal teams and the lay clients to achieve efficiency. STS should therefore be reviewed as a real option in respect of relatively short cases that fit the suitability requirements.

This article was co-authored by Catherine Devine at CMS.