Lawyers who make late requests for paper case management conferences (CMCs) without good reason “run the risk of sanctions”, the High Court has warned.
Mr Justice Walker said: “An oral case management conference is not something to be feared, nor is it something so unimportant as to be no more than a nuisance.
“It is a valuable opportunity in which the parties have the benefit of a judge giving the case a constructive look, working through the practicalities of what the parties have in mind, and seeking to ensure that the case is on track to proceed in a way which will be efficient, which will be fair to both sides, and will accord with the interests of justice.
“Save in the most exceptional circumstances, the appropriate course for anyone who is thinking that costs might be saved by an out-of-time request for a paper case management conference is to think again.
“The best working assumption is that the benefits of an oral case management conference will more than justify the costs involved.”
Walker J said “the moral” for anyone contemplating a late request for a paper CMC was that if the parties had not been able to agree and prepare the documents within time, the case “is likely to be one in which an oral case management conference will be of particular benefit”.
Ruling in Richardson v Glencore UK  EWHC 3990 (Comm), the judge said a letter e-mailed to the court listing officer by the parties the day before the CMC, asking whether their attendance would be required, “demonstrated a failure to appreciate the role and importance” of a CMC.
It also demonstrated a failure to comply with the special provision made for case management in the Commercial Court by CPR 58.13 and the Admiralty and Commercial Court Guide.
Walker J said the general rule was that there must be an oral CMC at court, and only in “rare and exceptional” cases would it be possible to dispense with them – where the issues were straightforward and costs of a hearing could not be justified.
However, the judge said that despite what was said in the guide, he had recently dealt with several cases where lawyers had reached a “hurried agreement” at a late stage as to the orders to be made at a CMC.
“This has then been followed by an out-of-time request to the court to vacate the scheduled hearing.”