If only I could advise my clients that I could guarantee quicker and cheaper dispute resolution through the Courts. The issues which put off clients taking claims are often the costs of litigation and the length of time taken to come to trial.
In two series of reforms, The Woolf Reforms and The Jackson Reforms, control the process of proceeding by active case management (taking away the decision making and active case management from the parties) was to be handed to the Court to improve efficiency; and the costs would be made proportionate. Costs Budgeting was also introduced. It is generally agreed that both of these Reforms have had the opposite effect of increasing delays and increasing costs.
Two pilot schemes are now running and will continue to run until October 2017 in cases predominantly in the Chancery Division, Commercial Court, the Technology and Construction Court and the Mercantile Court.
- Shorter Trial Scheme:
- This scheme seeks to restrict the length of Particulars of Claim and Defence to 20 pages.
- Pre-Action Protocols do not apply and a simple 14 day letter before action is all that is required.
- The proceedings are assigned to one Judge who takes the case on issue through the case management conference and to trial.
- Automatic disclosure of documentation takes place within 14 days of the case management conference.
- Witness statements are restricted to 25 pages and the issues are likely to be restricted.
- Expert evidence is limited to written reports with oral evidence being restricted by the Court.
- The trial takes places within 8 months of the case management conference.
- The trial is restricted to four days.
- Costs budgeting does not apply. The Court is likely to make a summary assessment of costs which will be quicker and cheaper.
- The Flexible Scheme:
- The parties agree to adopt a trial process to suit their case.
- Parties can ask the Court to determine issues on the basis of written evidence and submissions rather than hold a trial in person.
- The parties may be able to agree to no costs budgeting.
In both schemes justice is seen to be sacrificed for a shorter or more flexible procedure. The procedures are unlikely to suit the big cases which will always be destined to trial and may not suit those cases which can be referred to mediation at an early stage. However, the sacrifice of the quality and process of decision making for a quick result may be acceptable for business users at the Court.