The Civil Procedure Rule Committee is having an open meeting on 13 June 2008. I wrote about last year’s one (Rule Committee Open Meeting) in a manner simultaneously respectful and tongue-in-cheek – respectful in that the Rule Committee does an important and under-regarded job well, tongue-in-cheek because I wanted you to read it without nodding off.
I will not repeat what I said last year about the Rule Committee’s statutory terms of reference, but it is worth saying again that it is no small matter to devise a rule which potentially has application (subject to value limits) across all courts and in all circumstances. Those who criticised the Commercial Court Long Trials Recommendations on the grounds that they were not a rewrite of the CPR seem to have overlooked the virtue of devising practice and procedures within the existing rules.
The area which concerns me – disclosure and the related court management functions – has a comprehensive code and scope for discretionary input on the part of the court which is almost untrammelled save by the overriding objective and common sense. We can start thinking about new rules on the day a judge says that he would like to make a particular order for efficient case management but is barred from doing so by the rules as they stand, or by some narrow but binding precedent. Neither seems very likely as things stand. The existing rules, wide as they are, have barely been tested thus far and are unlikely to be found wanting when they are.
Exercises like the Commercial Court Recommendations are a good testing-ground for new ideas. New rules may result in due course, but the Working Party was quite right to limit its recommendations to things which fitted within the existing rules structure.
Those of you with an interest in how the rules are made and altered may like to go along on 13 June to see the Rule Committee in action, if only to get a feel for the painstaking way they go about it. You won’t be allowed to express your views or throw buns, although there will be a session at the end for questions which have been submitted in advance.
The official notice on the MoJ web site says merely that the meeting will be somewhere in central London, conjuring images of being blind-folded and taken to a secret location. Doubtless something more specific will be announced in due course.