Pilot launch for fast-track court system

Three separate pilot fast-track schemes are being launched next month in a bid to speed up civil procedure and reduce costs in the wake of the Woolf report.

As from 1 October, 23 family courts will be running the family law ancillary relief procedure pilot scheme, which applies to all ancillary relief applications made on or after that date.

Family Division president, Sir Stephen Brown, has ruled that the courts must set a date for an early “first directions appointment” at which directions will be given “with the objective of defining the issues and saving costs”.

There may also be a “financial dispute resolution appointment”, where proposals for resolving the application can be discussed in circumstances of privilege.

Legal representatives who attend either kind of appointment are required to have full knowledge of the case.

“This is the most significant procedural change to affect family lawyers,” said Nigel Shepherd, of the Solicitors Family Law Association.

In those courts running the pilot scheme, the procedure will be compulsory and, said Shepherd, it was essential for all practitioners to understand how it works.

He said: “Even if a practitioner primarily works out of a court not in a scheme, they may well be on the other side of proceedings issued in courts that are.”

Meanwhile, the Patents County Court (PCC) will shortly be introducing a two-pronged alternative dispute resolution pilot scheme – fast-track arbitration and fast-track mediation – in London.

PCC spokesman Caspar Kennedy said: “The schemes will provide low-cost, quick handling of disputes about patent, design, copyright and other intellectual property matters.”

The PCC is holding an open meeting in London on 2 October where IP practitioners can talk to PCC chief His Honour Judge Ford and representatives of the participating mediation groups – the Academy of Experts, the Centre for Dispute Resolution and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

Clinical negligence cases are also to get the fast-track treatment. As of 1 October, claims valued at under £10,000 will be eligible to take part in a scheme at Birmingham County Court which aims to bring about a trial within a year in cases that cannot be resolved.