Understanding the Law
November 12, 2010
Civil Procedure Rules

The most innovative aspect of the Civil Procedure Rules 2000 (CPR2000) is its provision for the conduct of case management conference by the Master of the Court whose duty is to bring cases up to a standard of readiness for trial. It must be noted that case management could be done to prepare cases for any court, but the emphasis here is on preparation of cases for the civil division of the High Court.{{more}}

The claim form is first served on the defendant and the defendant in turn files an acknowledgement of service and a defence with the court office. Four to eight weeks after a defence is filed by the defendant at the High Court Office, a case management conference must be conducted. A party may, however, apply to the Court to fix a case management conference before a defence is filed. In doing so, reasons must be given for the application.

Case management conferences are normally conducted by a Master of the Court, but the Chief Justice may appoint any other judicial officer, for example a judge or the Chief Registrar, to perform those duties. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court employs a Master on a permanent basis to conduct the conferences. St. Vincent and the Grenadines shares the same Master with the islands of the Eastern Caribbean States from Dominica in the north to Grenada in the south (the other islands in the North are covered by another master). The master is essentially a judge in Chambers. In addition to his substantial duties, he adjudicates on regular Chamber matters on his monthly visit.

Part 25 of CPR2000 provides for the underlying objective of the Rules to be achieved in case management conferences. The master is empowered to assume a non-traditional role in actively assisting the parties to settle the whole or part of their case on terms that are fair to them. The master could determine whether a particular step is likely to justify the cost of taking it. The master may even encourage the parties to use any appropriate form of dispute resolution. In other words, he or she may encourage them to use mediation rather than going through a court trial. If he considers a court trial necessary, he must insist on full disclosure of relevant facts before the trial to prevent one party from gaining an unfair advantage over the other.

Case management procedures require the parties to be present with counsel when their matter is dealt with. It, therefore, anticipates parties who are well informed. However, the master may deal with many aspects of the case if it appears appropriate to do so without requiring the parties to be present.

The power of the master is varied. He or she can give orders and directions. He or she can dismiss or give judgment on a claim after a decision on a preliminary issue. Depending on the complexity of the case, the master could order further case management and direct that certain measures be taken before the next case management conference. Such measures include disclosure of relevant information and inspection of documents, filing of expert and witness statements among others.

Of special significance is the master’s power to impose sanctions/punishments on those who fail to comply with orders or directions given in case management conferences. In the case of Kenton Collinson St. Bernard v The Attorney General (Grenada) order was given for both sides to exchange witness statements by a certain time. The claimant’s witness statements were filed late and no application was made for relief from sanctions. Justice Denyse Barrow who presided over the case management conference did not accept the witness statements and the claimant was unable to prove his case.

Case Management conferences have significant advantages. The master identifies the issues in the case at an early stage. He deals with preliminary issues and only issues that have to be tried are passed on to the judge. A pre-trial review could, however, be arranged if the judge sees the need to make sure that everything is ready for the trial itself.

With the help of counsel, the master completes his task by fixing a date for trial, deciding on the number of witnesses and allocating the amount of time for the trial. The litigants/parties would then have their day in court.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com