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Case management

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The most innovative aspect of the Civil Procedure Rules 2000 (CPR2000) is its provision for case management conferences. It must be noted that case management could be done to prepare cases for any court but the emphasis here is on preparation of cases for the civil division of the High Court. A case management conference must be initiated between four to eight weeks after a defence is filed by the defendant at the High Court office.{{more}} A party may, however, apply to the Court to fix a case management conference before a defence is filed. In doing so, reasons must be given for the application.
Case management conferences are conducted by a master (the Chief Justice may appoint any other judicial officer) who operates in the islands of the OECS from Dominica in the north to Grenada in the south (the other islands are covered by another master). He is essentially a judge in chambers. In addition to his substantial duties he adjudicates on regular chamber matters on his monthly visit.
Part 25 of CPR2000 provides for the underlying objective to be achieved in case management conferences. The master is empowered to assume such a non-traditional role in actively assisting the parties to settle the whole or part of their case on terms that are fair to them. The master could determine whether a particular step is likely to justify the cost of taking it. The master may even encourage the parties to use any appropriate form of dispute resolution. He must insist on full disclosure of relevant facts before the trial to prevent one party from gaining an unfair advantage over the other.
Case management procedures require the parties to be present with counsel when their matter is dealt with. It therefore anticipates parties who are well informed. However, the master may deal with many aspects of the case if it appears appropriate to do so without requiring the parties to be present.
The power of the master is varied. He can give orders and directions. He can dismiss or give judgment on a claim after a decision on a preliminary issue. Depending on the complexity of the case he could order further case management and direct that certain measures be taken before the next case management conference. Such measures include disclosure and inspection of documents, filing of expert and witness statements, among others.
Of special significance is the master’s power to impose sanctions on those who fail to comply with orders or directions given in case management conference. In the case of Kenton Collinson St. Bernard v The Attorney General (Grenada), order was given for both sides to exchange witness statements by a certain time. The claimant’s witness statements were filed late and no application was made for relief from sanctions. The judge who was conducting case management conference did not accept the witness statements and the claimant was unable to prove his case.
Case management conferences have significant advantages. The master identifies the issues at an early stage. He deals with preliminary issues and only triable issues are passed on to the judge. A pre-trial review could, however, be arranged if the judge sees the need for it.
With the help of counsels, the master completes his task by fixing a date for trial, deciding on the number of witnesses and allocating the amount of time for the trial. The litigants would then have their day in court.