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Chancery Division to pilot fixed-length trials from May


Briggs LJ: recommended pilot

A pilot of fixed-ended trials will begin in the Chancery Division in less than six weeks’ time – and parties have been warned that they may be given just 24 hours’ notice that they are to be included in it.

The pilot has come out of Lord Justice Briggs’ Chancery modernisation review [2], which proposed that all trials should, save in unexpected circumstances, be required to be completed within the period allocated to them.

He found that, in 2013, nearly 50% of trials had exceeded their time estimates, on average by almost 50%.

Briggs LJ said the move should first be piloted and the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Terence Etherton, has decided that this should begin on 1 May 2014.

According to a briefing published by the Chancery Bar Association, any case coming on for trial from that date may be selected for inclusion in the scheme. If it is, it will have to be completed within its time estimate.

It said: “Although it may sometimes be possible to inform the parties significantly in advance of the trial that a case will be conducted on a fixed-length basis, that will not always be so. Cases may be chosen for the pilot as late as the day before the trial begins. The parties to all cases must therefore prepare for trial in the knowledge that their cases may not be allowed to overrun.

“In the circumstances, the parties to cases listed for trial on or after 1 May 2014 should check their time estimates as a matter of urgency and, should they now be thought to be too short, inform the court at once.”

Parties have been warned to ensure their time estimates make a realistic allowance for pre-reading by the judge as the time within which a case must be concluded will run from the beginning of the judge’s pre-reading. “Should the period allowed for pre-reading prove inadequate, the time available in court will be shortened correspondingly.”

The briefing said parties need to consider carefully how long each element of the case is likely to take. Where it is thought that it will be appropriate to have an interval between the close of evidence and final submissions, the time estimate should factor this in as well.

“In practice, it will be vital for the parties to agree a trial timetable at as early a stage as possible and to review it if circumstances change.”