When civil proceedings have been issued, the case will be allocated to one of three ‘tracks’. The track to which a case is allocated depends mostly on the value of the claim.
What cases are allocated to the fast track?
The fast track is the normal track for cases falling into the £5,000 to £25,000 bracket, and which can be dealt with by a trial which will not exceed a day. The following cases will normally be allocated to the fast track:
- Personal injuries cases with a financial value between £5,000 and £15,000;
- Personal injuries cases with an overall value under £5,000, but where the damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity are likely to exceed £1,000;
- Claims by residential tenants for orders requiring their landlords to carry out repairs or other work to the premises where the financial value of the claim is between £1,000 and £25,000;
- Other categories of cases, where the financial value of the claim is between £5,000 and £25,000.
What directions are given?
When it allocates a case to the fast track, the court will send an allocation notice to the parties. This will include case management directions given by the District Judge which set a timetable for the steps to be taken from now through to trial. Those steps include disclosure, listing questionnaires and filing witness statements.
If any direction or order is required that has not been provided for, it is the parties’ duty to make an application as soon as possible to avoid undue interference with the overall timetable. Fast track directions will be tailored to the circumstances of each case.
The requirement for disclosure means the claimant must tell the defendant about relevant documents and communications in their possession. These include anything that supports or undermines their claim, and that supports the defendant’s case.
Experts in fast track claims
The use of single joint experts in civil claims is encouraged by the civil court rules. The court has power to direct that the evidence on particular issues may be given by a single expert jointly instructed by the opposing parties. Typically, a single joint expert will be appointed because of the disproportionate cost of having two experts – one for each side.
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 would be prepared and ready for exchange about 14 weeks after the order giving directions.
At least eight weeks before the trial date the parties must file pre-trial checklists with the court. If the case is settled, the hearing fee (currently £545) is refundable in whole or part if the court is notified of the settlement at least 7 days before trial.
The court may hold a hearing after which it will confirm the trial date and give further directions. However, in most cases a hearing will not be necessary, and the court will simply confirm or alter the trial date as appropriate. The court will give the parties at least three weeks’ notice of the date of the trial unless, in exceptional circumstances, the court decides shorter notice is to be given.
Standard pre-trial directions will provide that an indexed, paginated, bundle of documents contained in a ring binder must be lodged with the court between 3 and 7 days before trial. It is the claimant’s responsibility to lodge the bundle with the court. Identical bundles will be needed for each of the parties, with an additional bundle for the witness box.
Failing to pay the pre-trial fee
If the claimant fails to pay the fees 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 will be required to pay the defendant’s costs, unless the court orders otherwise – though the court retains the power to reinstate the claim.
Fast track trials
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.
Fast track costs
On conclusion of a case, the normal rule is that the loser pays the winner’s costs. However, in fast track cases the costs payable for legal representation at trial are fixed, depending on the value of the claim, so the winner may not recover all their costs from the other side.
The issue of costs will be dealt with by the trial judge by way of ‘summary’ assessment at the end of the trial. Each party is required to file and serve a statement of costs at least 24 hours before the hearing. At the end of the trial, the judge will decide there and then how much the loser will have to pay towards the winner’s costs of the litigation.