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Lord Woolf's report Access to Justice envisages the pre-trial review (PTR) as an integral part of case management: it provides "an opportunity to set a programme, timetable and budget for the trial". Currently, the Lord Chief Justice's practice direction (Civil Litigation: Case Management) of 24 January 1995 says a PTR should be applied for in cases estimated to last over 10 days in the Queen's Bench and Chancery Divisions. It should be conducted between eight and four weeks before trial.
According to the Chancery Guide, the party applying for the PTR should circulate a list of matters to be considered at the hearing at least seven days in advance. The remaining parties must respond with comments at least two days before the PTR. This exchange should address outstanding procedural steps, the estimated length of trial, its conduct and the order of evidence. The Guide to Commercial Court Practice goes further to identify the programming of the trial, preliminary issues or order of issues to be tried, order of witnesses and organisation of documents as items for consideration.
PTRs are under-used at present. There follow some suggestions on how to maximise the benefits of this procedure, possibly the last time at which counsel or solicitors instructed to represent the parties will attend court prior to trial.
Even though the practice direction only envisages a PTR in longer cases, it may be invaluable in shorter cases which involve complications such as multiplicity of issues or witnesses.
Circulating and commenting on lists of matters to be considered at the PTR will be useful to firm up the matters in dispute in any division.
There are no limits on what can be raised at the PTR: all administrative matters (bundles, date for service of draft chronologies, lists of authorities, sequence of opening submissions, witnesses) and substantive outstanding matters (preliminary issues or other interlocutories) can be resolved before a judge who may be the trial judge.
A reminder - all matters should form the subject of consent order or a direction.