Moves toward greater use of judicial docketing

One of Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations, in his January 2010 report on civil litigation costs (see our summary of the key recommendations here), was that cases should be assigned wherever possible to designated judges who have relevant expertise and, so far as possible, a case should remain with the same judge – the practice known as “docketing”. This recommendation has not received a lot of attention since publication of the report, but it is now clear that it is to be implemented with the bulk of the Jackson reforms from April 2013.

Docketing will not, however, be introduced across the board. It will not normally be appropriate for small or fast track claims, or for straightforward multi-track cases. As a general rule, the more specialist or complex the multi-track claim, the more appropriate it will be to docket it. The question will generally be addressed at the allocation stage, although docketing may occur later in the life of a claim. Practice Guidance, and the use of standard multi-track directions which include docketing, will be issued with a view to ensuring an appropriate and consistent approach.

On 9 February 2012 the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, delivered a lecture (the ninth in the implementation programme for the Jackson reforms) entitled “Docketing: Completing case management’s unfinished revolution”.  In it he described docketing as the “important step which has yet to be taken” to increase the incidence of good practice in judicial case management, and thereby help to reduce litigation cost. He stated, “As implemented, the Woolf reforms did not, in at least one crucial respect, provide the means to maximise the effective use of case management. That respect was their failure to introduce an effective docketing system.” The introduction of a form of docketing will, he said, help to complete the case management revolution.

In his speech Lord Neuberger highlighted a number of benefits of docketing, including:

  • reducing delay and, as a result, litigation costs;
  • saving court resources, as judges will require less preparation time and be able to conduct hearings more efficiently;
  • enabling judges to better tailor case management directions to the individual case;
  • increasing consistency in the management of a case;
  • enabling the court to keep track of a claim’s progress effectively.

He referred to positive experiences of docketing in other jurisdictions, notably the USA, and the results of a limited pilot study conducted in the Leeds county court (download report here) which, he said, demonstrates that docketing can be carried out effectively and beneficially here. He also noted that docketing is not an entirely new concept in this jurisdiction, as it is carried out to a greater or lesser extent in various courts including the Technology and Construction Court and the Commercial Court.

We have long supported the greater use of docketing to encourage informed case management, which requires a judge with the relevant expertise, sufficiently familiar with the issues, to make informed decisions about the future direction of a case. It will be interesting to see to what extent the implementation of Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendation improves the experience of case management for all those concerned in the litigation process.

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