The Civil Justice Reform brought the passage of the Civil Procedure Rules 2002 to Vanuatu and a new way for both the court and the lawyers/litigants, working together to bring justice to the people. This purpose was made clear in Part 1 of the Rules under the “overriding objective.”The overriding objective was to ensure that, as far as possible all cases were dealt with justly:
- By ensuring that no one party before the court was in a better position than the other.
- Saving the parties money as much as possible.
- Making sure that the case is dealt with as quickly and fairly as possible.
To be sure that all 3 objectives are carried out by the court the Rule states that there must be active case management by the court. This means that the court must do everything in its power to reduce the amount of time the parties spend before it prior to the trial of the case and helps the parties to either settle their dispute before trial or else decide what the issues are clearly enough so everyone is very sure of what must happen before the trial and give each party directions on what they need to do to get to an early trial date.
This was the motive behind the Chief Justice, Vincent Lunabek’s consultation workshop with the lawyers on Friday 1stFebruary, 2019. As Justice Mansfield, as facilitator for the workshop put it, “I would be proud to belong to a court with such an energetic vision.”He went on to add that the commitment and seriousness of the entire court was seen by the presence of the Judges at the workshop. The Chief Justice in his opening speech emphasised the need for more to be done by the Judges in the management of all cases but pointed out that such proactive steps in case management could not be done without the positive input of the lawyers representing their clients.
What has been the consequence of a lack of good case management?
- Trial dates being abandoned at a very late stage.
- Cases taking too long to get to trial.
- Case management conferences taking too long.
- Cases getting lost in the system and not being brought to the court’s attention at all.
So what steps can we expect the court to take in helping parties get their cases more quickly before the court for trial?
- From the very first case management conference the court will set the day for trial.
- At the first conference the court will work with the lawyers to establish all the issues and the steps that need to be taken in preparation for trial. This will help to cut down on the number of conferences before the court which will reduce costs to the client and make the entire process much more efficient for the court and the client.
- Any applications before trial will have to be brought to court by a certain date so that the trial date is not affected.
- Any delays in following the court’s directions caused by the lawyer or the client will be punished by the court if there is not a good excuse given at the earliest possible time and if the delay affects the trial date. The court is prepared to start placing personal costs on lawyers as well as their clients if they disobey as well as other punishments.
- The court will give a date for a trial preparation conference which would be the last conference before the trial which will allow the court, with the lawyer to review everything that has been done to make sure that the case is ready for trial.
What can we expect from the lawyers?
- The lawyers will be expected to be preparedto help the court with a smooth case management and to answer any questions which are put by the court so as to progress the matter.
- The lawyers will be expected to be helpful. That is, they must be prepared to give as much information as the court needs or asks for. They will not be allowed to hold back information intended to surprise the other lawyer and witnesses just so they can get an upper hand at trial. They will be expected to follow all the directions of the court as speedily as possible and to provide any documents such as case submissions to help the court in its final deliberations.
- The lawyers will be expected to be on time. The court will be scheduling case management conferences for 30 minutes and lawyers who are late will only be allowed to deal with their case in the remaining time and another date will be given to continue the conference. If lawyers do not appear the court may still choose to go ahead with the conference and make whatever orders it needs to. Lateness and non-appearance by lawyers or parties causes delay and this can result in costs implications to the responsible side.
The Chief Justice was very clear that 2019 would be a year for change in the justice system. This was evident in his speech at the opening of the law year last month and in his opening address at the start of the workshop. It is apparent that the Chief Justice intends to realise both the vision and mission of the court set out for this year. In that vein the Chief Justice mentioned his intention to bring access to justice to some of the more remote islands of Vanuatu in the early part of this year to educate self-represented parties on their rights and how to access the courts. We at Vanuatu Law are very excited about all the changes which are coming and we commend the Chief Justice for leading the way with such an energetic plan for the court, the lawyers and the people of Vanuatu.
Court’s 2019 Vision
Enhancing public trust and confidence
Court’s 2019 Mission
To improve the services provided by the courts to court users and the public enabling all to have access to justice.
DISCLAIMER – This is a legal column to provide basic information on the law and court procedure. It is not to be used as a substitute for legal advice but to be used only as a starting point in understanding what you might need and what you might need to do.