The Supreme Court, at the conclusion of the long running case of Talbot -v- Hermitage Golf Club & ors  IESC 57 (9 October 2014), issued a strong endorsement of case management and gave clear indications that the courts can, and will, take all necessary steps to ensure the efficient and cost effective use of court resources.
The case concerned a defamation and conspiracy claim brought against a golf club, its Chairman and the Golfing Union of Ireland by an unrepresented litigant. It was heard over twenty days in the High Court where the claim was dismissed. The plaintiff's appeal to the Supreme Court was also dismissed (on the basis that the conduct of the learned trial judge was exemplary; his summary of the law was unimpeachable and his findings of fact were supported by more than ample evidence).
Charleton J in his decision noted that the delivery of the judgment in the Supreme Court in this case constituted the 83rd day that the resources of the High Court and the Supreme Court had been directed towards the case which he described as, in essence, a simple one.
He referred to the fact that one of the unenumerated rights in Article 40.3 of the Constitution is the right of access to the courts and the resources of the courts are there for litigants. However, he went on to point out that those resources are not unlimited and no litigant (whether represented or not) was entitled to more than what was reasonably and necessarily required for the just disposal of their case. He declared that the resources which the courts decide to assign to a case must depend upon the importance of the legal issues involved, the gravity of the wrong allegedly suffered, the monetary sum involved and the public interest in the outcome of the case.
Charleton J was also of the view that litigants should not be faced with cases that are longer or more expensive than they need to be for a fair resolution. Therefore, putting reasonable limits on submissions in terms of time and allowing a measured number of hours or days for each side to litigate their case was both right and appropriate. Other issues which he believed should be curtailed included the calling of repetitive expert evidence and the excessive use of motions. He pointed out that the Rules of the Superior Courts were there to aid in the just disposal of litigation and were not to be over-used in such a way as to overwhelm the central core of what a case is actually about.
He felt case management hearings where the issues for trial could be determined would help both with cases involving unrepresented litigants and in complex cases where the parties are represented. Such a hearing could also help avoid the unnecessary use of discovery and particularisation.
The Chief Justice stated that in her view the use of judicial case management is crucial to the effective conduct of litigation, including where litigants are unrepresented by lawyers. It helps to define the key issues and to clarify the responsibilities between the parties. It enables managed use of limited court resources and can make the case more understandable for all concerned. It may facilitate an early settlement and also assists a court in determining a case within a reasonable timeframe.
She concluded by stating that the Courts would benefit from further development and use of case management so that the best use may be made of scarce court resources for the benefit of all litigants.
These judgments provide an interesting commentary on the use of case management and the duty of the courts to ensure efficient and cost effective use of court resources. Case management has proved very effective in the Commercial Court and is likely to form a key part of the new Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court's clear view is that case management plays a crucial role in the appropriate utilisation of court resources and, that it should be developed and extended to all appropriate cases.
The judgments also indicate that the overuse of unnecessary procedural and interlocutory matters and the unnecessary duplication of evidence will no longer be tolerated by the courts and that the overriding imperative of the courts will be to act to ensure proportionality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the use of court resources.