How does the court allocate claims to various tracks?

Court’s case management powers

The court has various case management powers.  In order to deal with the cases effectively, expeditiously and fairly it is necessary to use those powers. It is the court’s responsibility to ‘further the overriding objective’. This includes analysing the issues at an early stage, controlling the progress of the case, managing the timetables etc. The court also has the power to decide whether the case will be resolved at a trial or it will be dismissed. It is within the court’s management powers to allocate the cases to various tracks. The process of allocation is explained below.

Allocation Questionnaire

It is important for the court to allocate the cases to various tracks as the cases differ and it is sometimes more appropriate for a different court to deal with a certain issue. Managing cases like this may save time and expense. Allocation of the cases takes place after the defendant served a defence to a claim against him or her. The case may be allocated to one of the three tracks: small claims track, fast track or multi-track. The purpose of such an allocation is to deal with the cases more efficiently and fast. Certain types of cases may however require more attention due to complexity and require special type of management. When the court allocates the case, it is the first time that it considers the case. The court looks at the merits of the case and other important considerations. Each party must fill in allocation questionnaire before the court decides where to allocate the case. It is important to fill in this questionnaire so that the court decides to which track the case will be allocated. The questions which may be found in the allocation questionnaire include; what the estimated length of the trial is, how many witnesses and expert witnesses there are required, what the parties think to which track should the case be allocated and whether it is necessary to have the allocation hearing, what the estimated costs of the trial are etc. Even at this stage it is always possible to try and settle the case without any need to proceed to the trial. Therefore there is an option in the allocation questionnaire to ask the court to stay the proceedings in order for the parties to use other form of alternative dispute resolution to avoid going to the trial. Normal period of stay is one month. If the parties do not agree, the proceedings continue and will be referred for allocation.  It is always possible to apply for extension to stay the proceedings. Parties must file the allocation questionnaire on time and they are sometimes required to also file the estimate of costs.

Allocation of cases to various tracks

If the court cannot make a decision in relation to allocating the case to a particular track, it has the power to require further information from the parties or it can decide to hold an allocation hearing. It is necessary for the court to notify the parties of this hearing at least seven days in advance. The claimant has to pay an allocation fee after the allocation questionnaire was filed. Failure to pay such fee may result in the claim being struck out. After the court makes the decision it sends the allocation notice to the parties. The court decides to which track it allocates the case according to how much the case is worth. As in accordance with Civil Procedure Rules, the court has to consider some other factors in order to decide how to allocate the case, these include: financial value of the claim, the nature of the remedy being sought, complexity of the case, the number of the parties involved, the value of any counterclaim, the amount of oral evidence, the circumstances and views of the parties, the importance of the claim to other persons.

Small claims track

The cases which are of value £5,000 or less are allocated to small claims track, those types of cases are straightforward and there is no need to  have  pre-hearing preparation and the procedures which would otherwise be adopted at a normal trial. There will be no large costs incurred. There are however some restrictions imposed on evidence and recovery of costs. The hearing is short and the parties normally represent themselves although they can be represented by a lawyer if they wish. Depending whether the parties behaved reasonably the costs is normally not recoverable other than fixed costs, court fees, witness expenses and expert fees.

Fast track

The cases of value up to £15,000 belong to the fast-track category under certain conditions, including; that the case would not last more than one day and there would be one expert per a party in a maximum of two areas. Generally most of the cases are allocated to this track. The court will also set a timetable for the steps which has to be taken before the trial can take place. The court will give directions to the parties. As the trial can only last one day, there will not be any opening speeches; witness statements will represent evidence in chief. At the end of the trial there will be a cost assessment and the trial costs will be capped.

The multi-track

Cases of value £15,000 and more will be allocated to the multi-track. The cases may involve large claims involving million pounds or simple disputes of value just over £15,000. The court may give directions or fix a case management conference in order to give those directions.

Transfer

If the claim for a specified sum of money is started at an inappropriate court, the court will transfer them to the right one.