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Kevin Perry is national head of litigation at Pinsent Curtis.
Since the mid-to-late 1980s efforts have been made to refine the mechanics of the appeal process to produce a streamlined and efficient system for clients, practitioners and the judiciary.
While the refinements that have been made have led to greater efficiency within the Appeal Court process, it is arguable whether one of the primary aims, that of reducing the amount of time from initiation of the appeal process through to receiving the Appeal Court judgment, has been achieved.
The latest schedule of hear-by dates shows a range of time from at best three months for immigration appeals and Crown Office interlocutory appeals to 19 months for most Queen's Bench Division final judgment appeals. The schedule of hear-by dates is included in the Practice Direction for civil appeals.
The Practice Direction for Civil Procedure came into force on 4 September. The direction contains many new procedures plus warnings to solicitors about failing to comply with those procedures. It is also sets out a code of action and expressly states that it supersedes a number of earlier practice directions including those on the presentation of argument, skeleton argument time limits and documentation.
The direction is one of the lengthiest and most detailed of those currently in force and is contained in some 16 pages of small print. It will need to be carefully reviewed and assimilated by any solicitor involved in the appeal process.
It expressly recognises that the advocate addressed in the direction may be either a barrister or a solicitor with the requisite qualification. It also provides for fixed time limits in respect of oral argument in certain specified cases. Other points of significance include:
direction is given in the situation where a party's preferred advocate is not available for a hearing of an appeal. This will not be a ground for having a hearing date moved (see earlier Court of Appeal Practice Statement, 13 April 1992);
the grounds for expedition are reviewed by reference to Unilever plc v Chefaro Properties  1 WLR 243;
in respect of "heavy or complex appeals" a new timetable is laid down for skeleton arguments.
Solicitors are supposedly well practised at reading the small print. This is certainly an occasion when they need to do so.