I am pleased to be taking part in an eDisclosure seminar called eDisclosure after Goodale and the Practice Direction in the company of Terry Harrison of Hobs Legal Docs in Manchester on 25 January. The event runs from 6:00pm to 8:00pm and is followed by cocktails and canapés.
I have just seen the invitation, a very fine “stiffie” bearing the logo is not only of Hobs itself but of HSBC, whose regional office is providing the venue, and of HM the Queen – Hobs Reprographics plc is a holder of the Royal warrant.
The eDisclosure Practice Direction PD31B has been in force for more than a year and Senior Master Whitaker’s judgment in Goodale v the Ministry of Justice goes back to November 2009. The practice direction, properly used, is a sensible and practical guide to efficient and cost-effective electronic disclosure; its Electronic Documents Questionnaire is a structured way of exchanging information, whether in advance of the case management conference or subsequently, as a means of finding common ground and identifying points of difference so that the court can make an informed decision where agreement cannot be reached. The words “properly used” are chosen advisedly – the PD is not a weapon, nor is it a device for increasing the burdens of eDisclosure. If you can identify, by transparency and cooperation, which documents are worth having and which are not, using an informed estimate of both their value and the costs of extracting them, then there is time and money to be saved, justifying the investment in completing the questionnaire. This is information which you ought to have anyway on your own side, and collecting it from the other side is immensely helpful.
Goodale remains the best example of a judge taking a practical grip on the scope of disclosure, steering a line between (in this case) the excessive demands of the claimant and the very limited proposals of the defendant. The judgment acts also as authority for the proposition that some documents are more important than others and that a focus on them (whilst preserving anything else which may be relevant) may resolve a case without the need for broad disclosure of material which may be potentially disclosable but which adds nothing to a just disposal of the case, whether by settlement or by trial.
Goodale is the source also of a judicial pronouncement to the effect that the use of technology is vital for reducing the volumes to be reviewed on both sides. This theme appears also in Lord Justice Jackson’s Review of Litigation Costs and in the Practice Direction which expressly requires parties to discuss the use of technology.
Regional firms have opportunities here. The use of technology generally obviates the need for large teams and puts an emphasis on skilful and intelligent use of the rules. Anyone can play – you do not need to be a giant firm in London to be good at this.
It has always been my plan to spend more time in the UK regions in 2012, without decreasing the number of international venues. Hobs Legal Docs and HSBC have given us an event and a venue for a cracking start to the year.