Streamlining in the Rolls Building has got off to a slow start.
At a conference for commercial litigators this week, there was some surprising news about the shorter and flexible trials pilots introduced in October to streamline and speed up cases in the Rolls Building courts.
Whereas you might have expected the schemes to be immediately popular, in fact – according to Mr Justice Blair, judge in charge of the Commercial Court – they have had ‘a slow start’.
This is in contrast to the other big initiative brought in in the Commercial Court last October, the ‘Financial List’. Blair said the List, which matches financial markets cases to judges with the right expertise, had proved more popular than anticipated, with 10 cases now having started in it.
The shorter and flexible trial schemes were intended to clear some of the backlog of cases and offer ‘dispute resolution on a commercial timescale’.
Under the shorter trial procedure, cases are managed by docketed judges, with the aim of reaching trial within 10 months of issuing proceedings, and judgment six weeks later. The maximum trial length is four days, and the scheme is designed for cases that can be fairly tried on the basis of limited disclosure and oral evidence.
One important aspect of the shorter claims procedure is that costs budgeting does not apply – unless the parties agree otherwise. Instead, costs are summarily assessed by the trial judge three weeks after the trial, with parties having exchanged schedules of costs.
The flexible procedure allows parties to adapt trial procedure to suit their particular case – for example by reducing disclosure and therefore costs.
Yet all these apparent benefits have not yet succeeded in enticing the expected levels of lawyers and clients to make use of the pilot – though Mr Justice Blair remains optimistic.
Speaking at the Commercial Litigation Association’s annual conference, Blair asserted that he was not worried by the slow start and was convinced that the pilot would soon catch on – and indeed he believed it would be allowed to continue beyond its official 2017 expiry date.
‘I would encourage solicitors to think about using this procedure,’ he said. ‘You don’t necessarily need a Rolls-Royce to get from A to B.’
It certainly seems worth having a conversation with clients about.
Rachel Rothwell is editor of Litigation Funding magazine