Reforming Civil Litigation – A report

Report advocates pro-active judicial case management and docketing

A Bar Council working group has made a series of recommendations regarding reforms to civil litigation in the Chancery Division, Admiralty, Commercial and Technology and Construction Courts in a discussion document.

The working group’s report raised concerns about the general cost and expedition of civil proceedings in a number of different courts, suggesting that their cost rendered them unaffordable for all but the largest commercial organisations. In particular, the ambit of disclosure and witness statements were recognised as significant cost contributors.

The report puts forward a variety of reforms which its authors believe would benefit users of the courts in question. Foremost amongst the reforms, are imposed requirements of docketing (assigning a single judge to a single case) and proactive early judicial case management.

The report envisages that the judge assigned to try the case would identify the precise issues calling for evidence and disclosure at a case management conference called after the close of pleadings. Parties would be required to justify their proposals for disclosure and the extent of witness evidence. Witness statements are seen as at the heart of unnecessarily increased cost, prolonging the trial, raising collateral issues and obfuscating the case. A chief recommendation is the abolition of the CPR rules for witness statements and their replacement by witness summaries identifying the issues the witness can address and summarising the factual evidence they will give.

Docketing has already been the subject of a pilot in the County Court, been utlised in the Technology and Construction Court to good effect and is backed by several members of the senior judiciary.

The enhanced use of technology should be found in paperless trials, use of hyperlinking in skeletons and witness statements, the report suggests. Electronic court files would be advantageous. The report writers advocate monitoring the position on greater introduction of technology, particularly the CPS move to paperless prosecuting, but justify the immediate introduction of electronic case management systems in the referenced civil courts.

Whilst the report only refers to the jurisdictions and courts now united in the Rolls Building, there is much in the report that will be of obvious application to other courts and divisions.