Two pilot schemes, the Shorter Trials Scheme and the Flexible Trials Scheme, will be introduced for claims commenced from 1 October and will run for a period of two years. The schemes allow for shorter and more flexible procedures for claims brought in the Rolls Building courts (including the Commercial Court, the Chancery Division and the Technology and Construction Court). The new Practice Direction governing the pilots (PD 51N) was published yesterday, following on from a consultation in May this year.

Shorter Trials Scheme

The Shorter Trials Scheme is intended to offer “dispute resolution on a commercial timescale”, with judgment obtained within about a year of issuing proceedings. It is aimed at cases which do not require extensive disclosure or extensive witness/expert evidence. Cases will be case managed by docketed judges and the maximum trial length will be four days.

The scheme sets out an abbreviated procedure, with disclosure limited to documents relied on plus particular documents or classes of documents requested by the parties, and applications generally dealt with on paper (save for the case management conference and pre-trial review). Costs budgeting will not apply to cases in the scheme, unless the parties agree that it should.

Claims can be issued in the Shorter Trials Scheme from the outset, or an application can be made to transfer a case into the scheme. Defendants who object to the use of the scheme can apply to transfer the case out of the scheme.

Flexible Trials Scheme

The Flexible Trials Scheme allows parties, by agreement, to adapt trial procedure (including disclosure, witness and expert evidence, and submissions at trial) to suit their particular case. Unlike the Shorter Trials Scheme, it appears that the Flexible Trials Scheme is wholly voluntary.

The scheme sets out a standard procedure which can be adopted in full or varied by agreement. Under the scheme, parties are encouraged to limit disclosure and oral evidence to the minimum necessary for the fair resolution of their disputes, with the aim of reducing costs, reducing the time required for trial and enabling earlier trial dates to be obtained.