Fixed end trials: The future in the TCC?
Following a pilot scheme the High Court announced that all trials in the Chancery Division of the High Court will be conducted on a fixed end basis. What this means is that each trial which comes before the Chancery Division in the future will need to be conducted and concluded within the allotted time, save in exceptional circumstances.
Trials taking longer to be concluded than the time allocated to them is a common occurrence and the reasons for this can vary from fresh issues arising at or shortly before the trial, the examination of witnesses taking longer than anticipated or the parties underestimating how long the trial will take.
While it remains to be seen how this direction will be applied in the future it seems clear that there will be a much greater emphasis on parties assessing at a much earlier stage what issues are likely to need to be addressed at trial, how long they will take to be assessed and being sensible about how much time is taken cross examining witnesses and making submissions. It will also need judges to be more proactive in controlling these matters in the lead up to and during the course of the trial.
While the direction only applies to Chancery Division cases at this stage and not the TCC, it seems inevitable (given that this direction was preceded by a pilot scheme) that a similar direction will be issued to TCC cases in the future. While the problem of overrunning trials is perhaps no so much of an issue in the TCC as it is in the Chancery Division (a survey which led to the pilot scheme suggested that around 50% of Chancery Division trials overran) it does mean that the risks of a Jarndyce v Jarndyce scenario (albeit a grossly exaggerated fictional illustration) of a never-ending trial will be a thing of the past.
Reviewed in 2015