I am writing to highlight a procedure adopted by our local county court in detailed assessment proceedings.
When making an application for detailed assessment, we have to provide an estimated length of hearing which, in view of some of the creative arguments from opponents, has to be at least three hours in most cases. Multiplied by tens of cases per month, this amounts to substantial court time.
In order to avoid the system being clogged up with these cases, Birkenhead County Court has introduced a system whereby preliminary hearings are listed for 20 minutes, and this enables the parties to attend and to be given an insight into how each party’s arguments are likely to fare at the detailed assessment. This narrows the issues between the parties and enables them to resolve matters by negotiation shortly thereafter.
I realise that courts and district judges are there to make decisions when the parties cannot agree, but this process enables the parties to be provided with the clarity that is lacking when they respectively embark upon the process. Usually, by the time that detailed assessment proceedings are issued, the negotiations have been exhausted and the matter is destined for a costly adversarial hearing.
Other courts are issuing directions which compel the parties to confer and file a joint statement of items agreed and not agreed. This is a time-consuming and much less fruitful process. The senior district judge in Birkenhead County Court has obviously given the subject much thought and has designed an approach that will actually help the parties to resolve their differences (as opposed to the onerous directions orders).
Hopefully other courts will follow suit.
Guy Platt-Higgins, Managing director, Law Costing, Birkenhead, Wirral