Court’s case management powers
The court has various case management powers to allow it to deal with cases effectively, expeditiously and fairly. It is the court’s responsibility to ‘further the overriding objective’, which includes analysing the issues at an early stage, deciding whether the case will be resolved at a trial or dismissed, controlling the progress of the case, managing the timetables etc. The court also has the power to allocate the cases to various tracks.
Types of track
Allocation of the cases takes place after the defendant serves a defence to a claim made against him. The court generally allocates the case according to how much the claim is worth, although under the Civil Procedure Rules it must also consider other factors including the:
- nature of the remedy being sought;
- complexity of the case;
- number of parties involved;
- value of any counterclaim;
- amount of oral evidence;
- circumstances and views of the parties;
- importance of the claim to others.
The three tracks available are:
- small claims track;
- fast track;
- multi track.
Small claims track
Claims valued at £10,000 or less are generally allocated to the small claims track. These tend to be straightforward cases with little pre-hearing preparation and procedures required. Some restrictions are imposed on evidence, the hearing is short and the parties normally represent themselves (although they can be represented by a lawyer if they wish). As long as the parties behave reasonably, costs are normally not recoverable, apart from fixed costs, court fees, witness expenses and expert fees.
Cases between £10,000 and £25,000 are generally allocated to the fast-track. The trial does not usually last for longer than a day with any expert evidence is limited to one expert per party. The court gives directions and sets a timetable for the steps to be taken before the trial starts. At the end of the trial there is a cost assessment and trial costs are capped.
The multi track
Claims valued at more than £25,000 or highly complex cases are allocated to the multi track. The court usually calls a case management conference to give directions.
Each party fills in an allocation questionnaire before the court decides where to allocate the case. Questions in the allocation questionnaire include:
- What is the estimated length of the trial?
- How many witnesses and expert witnesses are required?
- Which track do the parties think the case should be allocated to and is it necessary to hold an allocation hearing?
- What is the estimated cost of the trial?
It is still possible to try and settle the case without any need to proceed to the trial at this stage: the allocation questionnaire provides an option to ask the court to stay the proceedings so the parties can try to resolve their issues through alternative dispute resolution. Normal period of stay is one month. If the parties do not agree, the proceedings continue and will be referred for allocation, although it is always possible to apply for an extension to stay the proceedings.
Parties must file the allocation questionnaire on time, with an estimate of costs if requested. The claimant must pay an allocation fee after the allocation questionnaire is filed. Failure to pay this may result in the claim being struck out.
Allocation of cases to various tracks
If the court can’t decide which track to allocate the case to, it can ask for further information of the parties or it can hold an allocation hearing. The court must notify the parties of this hearing at least seven days in advance. After the court makes a decision it sends the allocation notice to the parties.
If the claim for a specified sum of money is started at an inappropriate court, the court will transfer them to the right one.