A 20 DAY TRIAL WHEN THE CASE WAS ALL ABOUT ONE WITNESS: WOULD THIS CASE BE ANY DIFFERENT TODAY?
Back in 2003 Chris Evans, the radio presenter, was involved in a lengthy contractual dispute with a number of defendants. There were 9 parties to the action and the trial went on for twenty days. The judge’s observations at the end of the judgment remain telling. The question is – would this be case managed any differently today?
Lightman J gave judgment in Evans -v- SMG Television Ltd  EWHC Civ 1423 (Ch) and the end of that judgment he observed
“287. I feel impelled to conclude this judgment with a comment on the ever-increasing cost and complication of legal proceedings vividly exemplified in this case. The only real issues in this case are short and simple, namely whether the conduct of Mr Evans was such that the defendants could no longer reasonably continue his engagement as star presenter of the Show and whether his conduct was damaging to Virgin Radio and SMG Jersey. To a layman these issues would appear to be of limited compass and capable of speedy and economic resolution. But they have for their resolution occasioned mammoth litigation and a 20-day trial at a horrendous cost to the parties. In an effort to save at least part of this cost, when this case first came before me on a case management conference a few days before the date fixed for the trial (far too late for an effective and cost saving exercise of case management powers) I ordered the parties to seek a solution through mediation, but this proved unsuccessful. The lateness of the attempt and the costs already incurred by both sides on the litigation may well have been a factor in the failure of the attempt. At the trial I was faced (as is the lot of trial judges today) with some 30 (frequently very lengthy) witness statements from the witnesses of fact, expert reports on both sides in four distinct disciplines, and over 50 (largely unread) heavy and tightly packed volumes of documents. Such “overkill” is the bane of modern day litigation. The overriding objective of the Civil Procedure Rules of conducting litigation in a way which saves expense (ie economically) has yet to find its full reflection in litigation practice. In the vain hope of cutting the case down to manageable proportions I suggested that little (if any) more was required to determine this case than to hear the cross-examination and re-examination of Mr Evans. Such an abbreviation of the trial (no doubt for good reasons) was not adopted. At the close of the case it is clear that Mr Evans’s evidence under cross-examination effectively decided the outcome of the litigation and Mr Vos in his final submissions acknowledged that this was so. This trial underlines the urgent need for a more economic and affordable trial process. Large trials are becoming increasingly unmanageable and unaffordable. This is very much a case in point.”
- A case that rests essentially on the evidence of one witness (and very little else).
- A 20 day trial.
- 30 witness statements.
- Expert witnesses from four disciplines.
- 50 large (“largely unread”) bundles.
- Mediation attempted too late in the day.
It is interesting to contemplate how a case such as this would be case managed today. Perhaps costs budgeting would cut down on the surplus witnesses, experts and bundles. Perhaps enforced mediation at a much earlier stage would also have made a difference.