Speeding up the courts with better case management

IT is now five years since case management was introduced by Judge Charters and Principal Registrar Michael Harding in the Perth District Court.

This reflected an Australia-wide trend to move away from lawyer/client-driven litigation towards a system where the court plays an active role in the management and progression of litigation.

The scorecard for these reforms rates highly with the lawyers who work within the case management framework.

While some fine tuning was recommended in the Final Report of the Review of the Criminal and Civil Justice System in Western Australia, there are few criticisms.

The Report noted that: “The objective is to achieve a better result for litigants and a more effective use of publicly funded resources in the court system.”

Previously, disorganised lawyers who managed recalcitrant clients were able to delay proceedings with multiple adjournments and inaction.

This frustrated the more organised lawyers and increased the costs for both parties. Now that the court sets the timetable, the scene is very different.

Godfrey Virtue & Co plaintiff lawyer Pieter Cruse said case management had smoothed the legal process considerably.

“At first I was against its introduction because I did my own management,” Mr Cruse said

“Now, I have seen that it works well. It has boosted the prosecution of claims because the system compels action. It does not allow parties to drift. Many files that had been ‘sat on’ because of inaction from the other side are now being finalised.”

These sentiments have been echoed around the profession. Clayton Utz litigation partner Dominic Bourke said one of the key changes was cost penalties for adjournments or extension of time limits, when there was not a valid reason.

“Case Management has been a success in reducing the length of time a case takes to be finalised. Although it means that court officers are tied up in Directions hearings every afternoon, there are fewer and fewer old files in the system,” Principal Registrar of the District Court Michael Harding said.

“From January 1 2002 there will be further improvements in the system. The District Court is introducing an ‘Inactive List’.

In accordance with the recommendations contained in the Review, after six months of inaction on a case, the matter would be placed on this list and would only be able to be removed with the court’s permission. If a further six months passed without any steps taken, then the case could be ‘administratively dismissed.’”

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