Counsel presenting short applications should be “retained in sufficient time” to enable them to advise on the contents of the electronic bundle, the High Court has recommended.
His Honour Judge Hodge QC, sitting as a High Court judge in Manchester, also stressed the importance of a searchable index to the bundle, or at least each page of the bundle being individually and sequentially numbered.
Tailby, Re TPS Investments (UK) Ltd  EWHC 1135 (Ch) concerned an administrator’s application for an extension to his term of office.
It was an unopposed hearing listed for 30 minutes, but the judge used it to issue general guidance on preparing for remote hearings of short applications during the coronavirus crisis.
He pointed to Covid-19 guidance from the Business and Property Court judges in Manchester, which says that “unless otherwise proposed or directed, electronic bundles should contain only the documents which are essential for the hearing”.
HHJ Hodge said the word ‘essential’ was “chosen advisedly” with the aim of relieving “the burden cast, not only upon the judges of assimilating material in often user-unfriendly electronic bundles, but also upon the legal professionals, and any support staff, responsible for compiling the electronic bundles, by reducing the volume and scope of the documentation to be included within them”.
If counsel was to be briefed to present the application, “then they should be retained in sufficient time to enable them to advise as to the contents of the electronic bundle”, he continued.
The Manchester guidance requiring that electronic bundles are emailed no later than three business days before the hearing, and skeleton arguments and copies of authorities two days before, “should not dictate the time at which the advocate is first retained for the hearing, or prevent him from having any input into the contents of the electronic bundle”.
In Tailby, HHJ Hodge said, the ‘essential’ documents were the application notice itself, the administrator’s supporting witness statement (with its exhibit) and the short witness statement of a trainee solicitor exhibiting emails from the legal representatives of the company’s secured creditor, and the entities asserting a prior interest in the company’s assets, indicating their consent to the proposed extension and confirmation of their non-attendance at the hearing.
Instead, the court received a ‘core’ bundle of 105 pages, which included four previous witness statements from the administrator made in support of the four previous applications for extensions of his term of office, with the exhibits to the various statements contained in a separate shared file.
Further, the judge said, the core bundle did not have a searchable contents tab or sequential page numbering. Each document was separately paginated, “making it impossible for the court to scroll down and identify any particular document by the page number within the PDF file”.
He urged parties providing electronic bundles to include a searchable index if possible but, if not, to “ensure that all the pages of the bundle (including any index and divider pages) are individually, and sequentially, paginated so that it can be readily searchable by scrolling down the file”.