Case Management Pilot explained

The Case Management Pilot has now been published.  It is in draft form at present, and the intention is that it will come into effect in June.  Although it has not formally been published for consultation,   practitioners are strongly urged to read and review it carefully, and to send any comments upon it to Joanna Furlong at the Ministry of Justice so any glitches can be ironed out so far as possible before it goes live.

The Case Management Pilot will introduce three distinct pathways for COP proceedings: 1) a Property and Affairs pathway, 2) a Health and Welfare pathway, and 3) a hybrid pathway for cases that have elements of both. The expectations of practitioners will be different depending upon which pathway is engaged.     Common to each, though, is an expectation of much greater ‘front-loading’ and cooperation to narrow the issues.

The Case Management Pilot is accompanied by a revised set of Rules which foreshadow a re-numbering of the Rules that is anticipated as part of the second tranche of rules changes (moving to the same model as in the CPR and FPR).   For ease of reference, all the Rules that will apply for purposes of the Pilot are set out in an annex – with suitably highlighted amendments – to the Pilot practice direction.   The intention is that practitioners (and the judiciary) will have to do the minimum of cross-referencing to the current iteration of the Rules during the life of the Pilot.

Before highlighting the key points of each, it is important to note the types of applications which the Pilot will not affect, which include: uncontested applications, applications for statutory wills and gifts, applications relating to serious medical treatment and deprivation of liberty applications (both Re X applications and s.21A applications).

It should also be noted that the intention is that the Case Management Pilot sits alongside and does not displace the Transparency Pilot for so long as they are both in operation (which will include at least part of June and all of July 2016), so the expectation will be that all of the hearings noted below, with the express exception of the Dispute Resolution Hearing provided for in the property and affairs pathway, will be listed according to the Transparency Pilot rules as regards public/media attendance.

Personal welfare pathway

The personal welfare pathway starts pre-issue, with a set of requirements designed to ensure that only those applications which actually require resolution by court proceedings come to court, and those which do, do so in circumstances where the issues are clearly delineated from the outset.   The Pilot Practice Direction then specifies in some detail what must be included with or accompany the application upon issue including – importantly – a statement as to how it is proposed P will be involved in the case.

The next stage is for matters to be considered by a judge on the papers, both for gatekeeping purposes (i.e. allocating to the correct level of judiciary) and the making of initial directions including, importantly, listing a Case Management Conference within 28 days (unless the matter is urgent).      The judge can also direct that there be an advocates’ meeting before the CMC.

The CMC will be the first attended hearing and a vital step in the proceedings because of the obligations placed upon the court (not just the parties) to ensure that the issues are narrowed and directions set for the proportionate resolution of those that are in dispute. Importantly, one of the matters that the court will do is to allocate a judge to the matter – judicial continuity being recognised as crucial to the success of the pilot.    It is also important to note that this Pilot is running alongside the s.49 pilot discussed further here, and also includes a tightening of the rules in relation to experts (where the Pilot applies) so as to limit permission to circumstances where their evidence (1) is necessary to assist the court to resolve the issues in the proceedings; and (2) cannot otherwise be provided.

The intention is that in the ordinary run of the events there would then only be (at most) two more hearings, a Final Management Hearing and the Final Hearing. Ahead of the Final Management Hearing, whose purpose is to determine whether the case can be resolved by consent and, if not to ensure proper preparation for trial, an advocates’ meeting is to be listed at least 5 days in advance for purposes of – inter alia – preparing a draft order for the court to consider at the FMH.    Matters that are likely to be covered at the FMH will include such things as the trial timetable and a witness template, as well as the contents of the trial bundle: in line with the injunction given by the Court of Appeal in Re MN, the expectation is that the trial bundle for the Final Hearing will not generally exceed 350 pages, and must not include more than one copy of the same document.

It is important to note that, unlike the Public Law Outline, there is no fixed timeframe within which proceedings must be concluded, the only fixed date being the listing of the Case Management Conference.   The intention, however, is that the process set down in the Pilot is will mean dramatically shorter resolution of welfare applications.

Property and Affairs pathway

The property and affairs pathway does not start pre-issue because it is recognised that it is often only upon issue that it becomes clear that a property and affairs application is contentious.   It therefore comprises four stages.

The first stage is when the application becomes contested, i.e. when the court is notified in the COP5 that the application is contested or a respondent wishes to seek a different order.

The case management stage takes place on the papers, and includes either: (1) listing for a Dispute Resolution Hearing; or (2) transfer to a suitable regional court for listing of the DRH and future case management.   If the respondent has not given sufficiently clear reasons for opposing/seeking a different order, the judge will also at that stage require such reasons to be given.

The Dispute Resolution Hearing is a major innovation, and represents – in essence – judicial mediation in a form familiar to family practitioners.   A DRH, which will normally take place before a District Judge, is to enable the court to determine whether the case can be resolved and avoid unnecessary litigation, and to that end the content of the hearing is not to be disclosed and everything said therein is not admissible (save in relation to a trial for contempt).    The court is expressly required to give its view as to the likely outcome of the proceedings as part of the DRH.   The aim is for the court to be able to endorse a consent order at the end of the DRH; if not, the court will list for directions of the management of the hearing and a Final Hearing.

The last stage – the Final Hearing – will take place in accordance with directions made at the DRH (there being no Final Management Hearing as with the welfare pathway).

As with the welfare pathway, there is no fixed timeframe for the determination of the application.   Nor, in this instance, is there a specific timeframe for listing of the first attended hearing – the DRH.   This recognises that there is merit to flexibility because there will be some cases in which allowing longer for a DRH is more likely to bring about a quicker resolution overall; conversely, in some cases, the sooner that judicial banging of heads takes place the better.

Mixed pathway

If an application comprises elements of both welfare and property and affairs, prospective parties are directed at the pre-issue stage to identify which pathway is most effective and to comply with the requirements of that pathway so far as possible.   At point of issue, they must file a list of issues to allow the court to identify which pathway or mixture of elements is most appropriate.

The court will then, on the papers, either allocate the case to one of the two pathways set out above, or give directions as to the elements of each pathway are to apply and the particular procedure the case will follow.

Urgent applications

In all cases there is express provision for urgent applications, requiring the parties in particular to specify why the matter is urgent and any particular deadline by which the issue(s) need to be resolved as well, as well as directing compliance (insofar as possible) with any necessary pre-issue steps.

[Note: a version of this originally appeared in the March 2016 39 Essex Chambers Mental Capacity Law Newsletter. Alex as a member of the ad hoc Rules Committee has been involved in developing the Pilot. This note does not, however, represent an official comment on behalf of the Rules Committee.]



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