Preparing for trial
Civil Procedure Rules 2000 (CPR2000) brought the useful tool of case management to the court. Case management is not only done to prepare cases for trial in the High Court, but also for the Court of Appeal. Before the trial, a Master conducts formal conferences for the High Court and the parties are expected to carry out the directions and orders given at conferences until the matter is trial ready. The parties are expected to attend with their lawyers. Parties cannot leave attendance solely to their lawyers. There must be active participation so that they would be well informed, especially about how the case is to proceed. However, the court could inform you if your attendance is not required, but your lawyer must be present at all times. if there is non-attendance your matter could be adjourned and the court could penalize under its powers.
The court office is responsible for compiling a list of cases for case management. It publishes a timetable that your lawyer receives via e-mail. The list is also given on the court’s notice board.
After a defence is filed you can expect a case management conference, it is required according to the law. It must take place not less than one week and not more than eight weeks after the defence is filed. If there is an admission of the claim for a specified sum of money, it will not be done unless the claimant gives notice that the claim should continue. In specified situation the claimant can apply to the court for the case management to be done before the defence is filed. The parties must be informed at least 14 days before the case management of the date and place. After the last conference, a pre-trial could be done, but it is optional.
Case management serves the purpose for certain actions to be taken to get parties in readiness for the trial date. The Master will consider the likely benefits to the parties of taking a particular course of action, given the cost involved.
The case management conference is important to achieve the objective of CPR2000. After reading the claim on file, the Master in charge of the case, is empowered to “encourage and assist” the parties to settle parts or the whole case if necessary. Rather than the long drawn-out sessions in court, matters could be quickly settled and finalized. In addition, the Master could encourage the parties to use dispute resolution, especially mediation, to settle the matter. Mediation is less expensive in comparison to that of the court proceedings. Although you can engage one, the lawyer could only listen but does not participate in the discussion. The parties could express themselves freely in the presence of the mediator. There are presently skilled mediators who can provide the services. A small fee is charged. If you cannot reach an agreement, you can always go back to the court. The procedure is less time consuming and you can speak directly to the other party in the presence of the mediator who would guide the discussion. Witnesses are not required.
In former times it was not unusual for some issues to arise while the trial was in progress. The judge would have to delay while the matters were resolved. Today, all issues outside of the trial issue itself are resolved through case management. Very important is that of fixing the timetable for the court by estimating the amount of time that the matter would take and deciding the number of witnesses. A matter could end at case management.
Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law. E-mail address is: [email protected]