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Actions preceding the trial in the High Court

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Between the filing of the claim form and the trial date there could be a great deal of actions. No later than eight weeks after the filing of the defence by the defendant, case management notice is given to the parties. The court office must give all parties not less than 14 days notice of the date, times and place of the case management conference. {{more}}Shorter notices may be given if the parties agree or if the matter is urgent. All case management conferences are conducted one week each month except when the court is on vacation (the long vacation is from 1st August to the 15th September. Case management conferences are conducted in the Court House building, Kingstown.

Case management

In an earlier article, case management as part of the innovative process of the Civil Procedure Rules 2000 was discussed. I must emphasize that the object of case management is to make the case trial ready for the High Court. The master who is essentially a judge in chambers performs the task. In appeal matters the Chief Justice appoints a judicial officer to conduct case management.

Under the general powers of management the master could give directions on diverse issues. He can issue directions on how the case is to proceed – whether issues are to be consolidated or to be tried separately. The master could stay the whole or part of any proceedings until a specific date, transfer proceeding to the family or magistrate court, receive evidence by telephone and make consequential order about costs. The master could order the parties to provide listing questionnaire and witness statements, to make disclosures and most important he may order a pre-trial review.

Pre-trial Review

A pre-trial review is the last case management conference before the trial. It is governed by the same rules as case management. However, the judge who has charge of the trial conducts the review. It is primarily a check of all matters to ensure that the trial is done economically, fairly and quickly.

Despite the master’s powers to order a pre-trial review, a party could ask for a pre-trial review but must do so at least 60 days before the trial. The court office must notify each party of the review at least 14 days before the given date. A memorandum agreed to by both parties must be filed. If the parties cannot agree to the memorandum then both sides must file their own memorandum and serve it on the other party not less than three days before the pre-trial review. It must contain statements with respect to the nature of the proceedings, the issues, admissions, if any, and the factual or legal contentions of the party or parties.

At the review the judge gives directions for the actual conduct of the case and the procedure to be followed. He may decide on the total time to be allowed for the trial. He may direct the parties to provide further information and a core bundle for the trial. He may require skeleton arguments, a chronology of events, legal propositions and lists of authorities to be filed and served on all parties. In essence the judge sets the stage for the actual trial.

It must be noted that a pre-trial review would only be necessary in complex cases. In other instances if the judge sees the need for a pre-trial review he may conduct the same. Any case may be discontinued before trial if the defendant settles or makes an admission.