Guernsey case management and civil proceedings

18 August 2015

Proactive case management is a concept that pervades modern Guernsey civil procedure. This briefing outlines the powers of the court with respect to case management, together with various interlocutory procedures which form part of the civil litigation toolkit in Guernsey.

The overriding objective
Civil procedure in the Royal Court is governed by the Royal Court Civil Rules, 2007 ("RCCR") together with various practice directions. The RCCR have been heavily influenced by the English Civil Procedure Rules ("CPR").

The RCCR are stated to be subject to the "overriding objective" which is set out at Rule 1. The overriding objective is to enable the court to deal with cases justly, which includes, so far as is practicable: (a) ensuring that the parties are on an equal footing; (b) saving expense; (c) dealing with the case in ways which are proportionate to the amount of money involved, the importance of the case and complexity of the issues and the financial position of the parties; (d) ensuring that the case is dealt with expeditiously and fairly; and (e) allotting an appropriate amount of the court’s resources, taking into account the court's need to allocate resources to other cases.

Case management powers
The court has very broad and wide ranging powers of case management, which may be exercised either on application of one of the parties to litigation, or of its own initiative. The general powers of the court are listed in Rule 50 of the RCCR, and include:

  • power to extend or shorten the time for compliance with any rule, practice direction, order or direction of the court, even if the application for an extension is made after the time for compliance has expired;
  • power to adjourn or bring forward a hearing; 
  • power to stay the whole or part of any proceedings or judgment generally or until a specified date or event;
  • power to decide the order in which issues are to be tried;
  • power to dismiss or give judgment in an action after a decision on a preliminary issue;
  • power to exclude an issue from determination if in the opinion of the court the determination of that issue is unnecessary in order to achieve substantive justice between the parties;
  • power to waive any requirement that evidence in support of any application be given by affidavit;
  • power to require the maker of an affidavit to attend court for cross-examination or generally to give evidence in the proceedings;
  • power to require any party or party’s Advocate to attend the court;
  • power to deal with any matter in the absence of any party;
  • power to hold a hearing and receive evidence by telephone or other electronic means or by using any other method of direct oral communication; 
  • power to deal with a matter on written representations submitted by the parties instead of by oral representations;
  • power to direct that any evidence be given in written form;
  • where any two or more parties are represented by the same Advocate:
    – power to direct that they be separately represented; and
    – if necessary, power to adjourn any hearing to a fixed date to enable separate representation to be arranged;
  • power to direct that notice of any proceedings or application be given to any person; and
  • a general power to take any other step or make any other order for the purpose of managing the case and ensuring the just resolution of the case.

The court may attach conditions to its orders or directions, and it may specify a sanction for failure to comply with any order, direction or condition. Typical conditions that the court may impose include requiring a party to pay costs or give security for costs; requiring a party to give undertakings; or requiring a party to pay a sum of money into court.

Case management directions
The court and the parties are under a duty actively to manage cases in furtherance of the overriding objective.

Technically, within 14 days of the case being moved to the rôle des causes en preuve, or "witness list" (which usually happens after defences have been lodged, unless there are any preliminary legal issues which need to be resolved before the action can proceed further), the plaintiff is required to apply to the court for a date to be set for a case management conference.  In practice, what usually happens is that the advocates for the respective parties will liaise with a view to agreeing suitable case management directions. If agreement can be reached, these directions will be proposed to the court in the body of a consent order. However, if agreement cannot be reached, a case management conference will be required. Such hearings are generally heard in a Friday Interlocutory Court, but if a hearing is expected to last longer than 30 minutes a date for a dedicated hearing may be fixed.

Matters which fall to be considered under case management directions include what disclosure of documents is necessary, inspection of documents, provision of expert reports (if any), preparation and exchange of witness statements, and the timetable for each step to be taken. The court may give directions requiring the parties to prepare agreed statements of fact, issues, law or any technical or scientific matters in issue.  The court must also set a date for a pre-trial review (unless it considers such a review unnecessary), a date for filing a listing questionnaire, a prospective trial date or trial window, and direct whether the trial is to be heard by a judge sitting alone or by a judge sitting with jurats.

Usually, in complicated civil actions, the parties will agree some initial directions dealing with some or all of the above, and return to Interlocutory Court on an agreed date for the purpose of reviewing progress and considering what further directions may be appropriate at that stage.

Once the dates for the pre-trial review, filing of the listing questionnaire and the trial are set they can only be moved on application to the court. The parties can agree to vary the dates set for disclosure, inspection, exchange of witness statements, filing of expert reports, etc., so long as they do not affect the pre-trial review, listing questionnaire and trial dates.

Witness statements
It is usual for the court to order exchange of witness statements, although there is no specific provision of the RCCR that requires this. Exchange of witness statements is usually ordered to take place after the parties have given disclosure of documents, but before the filing of expert’s reports (if any) although this is in the court’s discretion. The parties will usually be ordered to exchange witness statements simultaneously. The witness statement will contain the evidence the witness proposes to give at trial and will usually stand as that witness’ evidence in chief. Hearsay evidence is admissible, but where a party intends to rely on hearsay evidence he must serve a hearsay notice.

Expert evidence
No party may call an expert, or put in evidence an expert’s report, without the court’s permission. The court will restrict expert evidence to that reasonably required to resolve the proceedings. At the case management conference, each party should identify (a) the field in which he wishes to rely on expert evidence and (b) where practicable, the expert on whose evidence he wishes to rely. Expert evidence is to be given in a written report unless the court directs otherwise. The court also has power to direct that evidence is to be given by a single joint expert.  Challenges to an expert’s evidence will be made at trial and the court does not perform a gatekeeping function as to the credibility, suitability or otherwise of a party’s expert at any prior hearing including the case management conference. The court’s role at the case management conference is to ensure that the use of experts is proportionate to the case and in keeping with the overriding objective.

The discovery procedure requires all discoverable documents to be listed by the parties to an action.  The term "document" includes "anything in which information of any description is recorded" and thus includes any information stored electronically, in hard copy or in any other form of media. By way of example, audio files, database records, sketches, photographs and word processing files are all covered by the definition.

The usual order for disclosure is limited to "standard disclosure" which requires the parties to list only those documents upon which they intend to rely together with documents which adversely affect their own or another party's case or which support another party's case. It is also possible for a party to apply for specific disclosure of further documents or classes of documents. The party must conduct a "reasonable" search for all discoverable documents which are (or have been) within its "possession, custody or power".  For example, documents that have been deleted from desktop PCs, but remain on hard drives are therefore within the scope of the search.  Similarly, if documents are held by a subsidiary, but accessible (i.e. without the consent of such subsidiary) either directly or on demand by the parent company, they also are within the scope of disclosure by virtue of being subject to the "power" of the disclosing parent company.

In assessing the reasonableness of the search conducted, the Royal Court will consider factors such as the number of documents involved, the nature and complexity of the proceedings, the ease and expense of retrieval of any particular document, and the significance of any document which is likely to be located during the search.

Each party must then produce a list of the documents located that fall within the definition of "standard disclosure" and serve it on every other party, identifying the documents they are disclosing concisely and in a convenient order. The list of documents must identify the documents to which a party claims a right to withhold inspection on the grounds of privilege (this can be done by listing classes of privileged documents), and those documents which are no longer within a party’s control, stating what has happened to those documents. It should also include documents common to both parties. Where a party does not search for a category or class of documents on the grounds that to do so would be unreasonable, they must state this in the disclosure statement, and must specify the category or class of document concerned.

The duty of disclosure is a continuing one that binds the parties until the end of proceedings.

There is currently no practice direction governing the disclosure of electronic documents as there is in England (see PD 31B CPR), although the Royal Court is becoming more familiar with English guidance and procedures for managing the e-disclosure process effectively.

The parties are entitled to inspect any document listed in the list of documents (aside from documents subject to privilege, or which is no longer in the disclosing party’s control), and to request a copy of it, subject to paying reasonable photocopying costs.  A party must give the party which disclosed the document written notice of its wish to inspect it and must be allowed to inspect the documents, or be provided with a copy of the documents, within 7 days of the request being made.

A party is also entitled to inspect a document mentioned in any pleading, witness statement, affidavit or expert report.

Documents can be withheld from inspection (but not from disclosure) on the ground that they are protected by legal professional privilege (which encompasses legal advice privilege and litigation privilege) and providing that the privilege asserted has not been waived.

Summary judgment
A party may choose to apply for summary judgment.  In order to succeed, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant has no real prospect of success in defending the claim and that there is no good reason why the claim should be disposed of at trial.  This is a very high hurdle. The reverse is also possible whereby a defendant can seek judgment against the Plaintiff where it can be shown that there is no real prospect of succeeding on the claim.

Striking out
The court has power to strike out a pleading if it discloses no reasonable grounds for bringing or defending the claim; if the pleading is an abuse of the court's process or is otherwise likely to obstruct the just disposal of the proceedings, or if there has been a failure to comply with the RCCR, a practice direction, or a court order.

Costs orders can be made at any stage of proceedings. The award of costs is always in the discretion of the court and is a matter determined by a judge sitting alone. As a rule of thumb, the principle that costs follow the event applies so that the successful party ought to obtain an order for his costs to be paid by the unsuccessful party. The award of costs may be either on the standard basis or the more generous indemnity basis. Orders for indemnity costs tend to be made against a party who is considered by the judge to have been responsible for some form of litigation misconduct – for example, where an action or application has been pursued unreasonably or vexatiously. Otherwise, it is normal to receive an order for standard costs only. If the amount of costs to be paid cannot be agreed between the parties, there is provision for costs to be taxed (assessed) by the court. In the case of an indemnity award, any doubt as to whether an item of costs should be allowed or not is to be resolved in favour of the receiving party. This basis of assessment usually means that the shortfall between costs incurred with one's own lawyer, and costs recovered from the unsuccessful party, are less than would be the case with an award of costs on the standard basis.

Security for costs
The Royal Court has wide powers to order any party to give security for costs in such amount and on such terms as it thinks just. The court has a wide discretion whether to order security and must carry out a balancing exercise when determining whether or not to order security, weighing up the potential injustice to the plaintiff if security is ordered and the injustice to the defendant if security is not ordered.

Payment into court
A party may seek to protect his position on costs by making a payment into court. The amount of the payment into court may reflect that party's view as to how much the plaintiff would be likely to recover at trial, or other essentially commercial considerations. If the plaintiff accepts the payment into court, he will usually be entitled, in addition, to payment of his costs up to the time of acceptance of the payment into court.  If the payment into court is not accepted in satisfaction of the claim, the action proceeds in the normal way. If, at trial, the plaintiff recovers less than the amount of the payment into court, he will be likely to have to pay not only his own, but also the other party's, costs incurred from the date of payment in.  In some cases, it is not possible to meet a claim by way of payment of a specified sum, in which event protection in costs may be afforded by making a settlement offer in correspondence which is marked "without prejudice save as to costs". Such a letter cannot be referred to in court until the case is determined but it is admissible in any argument on costs.

In form, Guernsey civil procedure continues to recall some of its historical French origins, but in substance it is very heavily influenced by modern practice and procedure in the English High Court. The emphasis on proactive case management is very much in keeping with the modern litigation climate and assists the Royal Court to deal with its increasing caseload of serious and complex litigation. The procedural tools which are available in any Guernsey civil action will be extremely familiar to most common law lawyers.

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