The fast track is the normal track for cases broadly falling into the £5,000 to £15,000 bracket, and which can be disposed of by a trial which will not exceed a day. The following cases will normally be allocated to the fast track:
When it allocates a case to the fast track, the court will send an allocation notice to the parties which will include case management directions given by the District Judge which set a timetable for the steps to be taken from that point through to trial. If any direction or order is required that has not been provided for, it is the duty of the parties to make an application as soon as possible so as to avoid undue interference with the overall timetable. Fast track directions will be tailored to the circumstances of each case.
One of the powers available to the court is that of directing that the evidence on particular issues may be given by a single expert jointly instructed by the opposing parties. In order to keep down costs and to reduce the length of fast track trials, it will be usual for the court to make directions for the joint instruction of a single expert unless there is a good reason for doing something else. In addition, in fast track cases the court will not direct an expert to attend at trial unless it is necessary to do so in the interests of justice. Normally expert evidence should be prepared and be ready for exchange about 14weeks after the order giving directions.
At least eight weeks before the trial date the parties must file pre-trial checklists at the court. The hearing fee is refundable in whole or part if the court is notified at least 7 days before trial that the case has settled.
The court may hold a hearing after which it will confirm the trial date and may give further directions. However, in most cases it will not feel the need to have such a hearing, and will simply confirm or alter the trial date as appropriate, and may make further directions. The court will give the parties at least three weeks’ notice of the date of the trial unless, in exceptional circumstances, the court directs that shorter notice will be given.
Standard pre-trial directions ill provide that an indexed, paginated, bundle of documents contained in a ring binder must be lodged with the court not more than seven days or less than three days before the trial. Responsibility for lodging the bundle is that of the claimant. Identical bundles will be needed for each of the parties, with an additional bundle for the witness box.
If the claimant fails to pay the fees payable with the pre-trial checklist the court will serve a notice on the claimant requiring payment within a stated period of time, failing which the claim will be struck out. If the claim is struck out for non-payment the claimant is also required to pay the defendant’s costs, unless the court otherwise orders. Once the claim has been struck out the court retains a power to reinstate it, and on such an application the court will apply the criteria relating to applications for relief from sanctions.
Trials will usually take place in the County Court where they are proceeding. It is likely the trial judge will exercise the power to order witness statements to stand as their evidence in chief, and otherwise control the evidence to be presented.
The normal rule is that costs in fast track cases will be dealt with by the trial judge by way of summary assessment at the end of the trial. This means that the judge will decide there and then how much the loser will have to pay towards the winner’s costs of the entire action. To assist with this process, each party is required to file and serve a statement of costs at least 24 hours before the hearing.
For the purpose of quantifying the amount of the claim, for a successful claimant it is the amount of the judgment excluding interests, costs and any reduction for contributory negligence, whereas for a successful defendant it is the amount the claimant specified on the claim form.
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