The introduction of The Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2013 on 1 April heralded the start of a stringent era of court-led case management, which will likely see many cases struck out for non-compliance with the Civil Procedure Rules, practice directions and court orders.
The importance of compliance with the overriding objective includes an additional requirement in the form of rule 1.1(2) (f) ‘enforcing compliance with rules, practice directions and orders’. To supplement the court’s powers to police this requirement a new rule 3.1(8) has been introduced ‘that the court may contact the parties from time to time to monitor compliance with directions. The parties must respond promptly to any such enquiries from the court’. Many individual cases will be docketed to a particular judge throughout the proceedings and that judge will be responsible for overseeing case progression.
Litigants need to ensure that any timetable of directions provided by the court is complied with in a timely manner, or else make formal application to vary the timetable for good reason. The rule relating to relief from sanction has been changed by Amendment Rules 2013, so as to remove the former requirement to consider all the circumstances of the case, including the nine specific matters set out under the former rule so as now to read:‘(1) On an application for relief from any sanction imposed for a failure to comply with any rule, practice direction or court order, the court will consider all the circumstances of the case, so as to enable it to deal justly with the application, including the need (a) for litigation to be conducted efficiently and at proportionate cost; and (b) to enforce compliance with rules, practice directions and orders.’
All judges involved in managing civil cases have received training from the Judicial College. This underlines how essential it is to ensure that the new rules are strictly enforced to bring about a cultural change in the conduct of litigation. For anyone doubting the resolve behind these rule changes they need only read Lord Justice Jackson’s fifth lecture in the implementation programme, delivered on 22 November 2011, entitled ‘Achieving a cultural change in case management’, to appreciate the edict requiring robust case management.
In that lecture Jackson referred to ‘the Singapore experience’, where similar reforms in case management were introduced in the 1990s. He stated ‘the effect of the new approach was electric. In the early years there was much discontent within the profession. However, once parties had adapted to the new regime... The work of the profession increased. The enhanced efficiencies in court administration and case management played no small part in helping Singapore position itself as a major financial centre and a leading dispute resolution centre within the Asia-Pacific region’.
And do not think the rigour of judges at first instance is to be ameliorated on appeal as the appeal court judges will be singing from the hymn sheet. This was underlined in Fred Perry v Brands Plaza and others  EWCA Civ 224, in which the Court of Appeal (including Jackson LJ) said that ‘courts at all levels had become too tolerant of delays and non-compliance with orders, and it was vital that the Court of Appeal supported first instance judges who made robust but fair case management decisions’.
It was no coincidence that these changes were introduced at the same time as other costs reforms recommended by Lord Justice Jackson. They were part of the package of measures specifically held back until ‘big bang’ on Easter Sunday. Together with strict case management, new costs review reforms were introduced, including costs management in multi-track cases, and the abolition of the allocation questionnaire and the requirement to lodge draft directions in a prescribed form. Times they are a-changing, so take heed.
District Judge Harold Godwin is president of the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges, and sits at Haverfordwest and Aberystwyth county courts