CIVIL LITIGATION IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Civil litigation in Trinidad and Tobago is governed by the Civil Proceedings Rules, 1998, now commonly known as the “CPR”.
The CPR espouse an overriding objective to deal justly with cases by, among other things, saving expense, ensuring that cases are dealt with expeditiously and allotting to cases the appropriate share of the court’s resources, while taking into account the need to allocate resources to other cases. The CPR is therefore founded on a system of case-flow management with active judicial case management. Practice Directions which are issued by the Chief Justice from time to time also add further particularity to the CPR.
The CPR and their associated Practice Directions have had a considerable impact on the way cases move through the civil litigation system in Trinidad and Tobago and there are several in-built mechanisms to foster settlement at the earliest and at every stage of the proceedings. The most obvious result is the speeding up of the judicial process firstly by encouraging pre-action protocols for the early exchange of information between the parties and enabling the settlement of claims prior to the commencement of proceedings, the issuance of proceedings and establishing fixed timelines pursuant to same, determination by trial or otherwise including by default or summary judgment as the case may be.
While an expedited end result is or should be the desire of all stakeholders in the litigation process, litigation governed by the CPR now places a substantial responsibility on clients and Attorneys alike to meet the many deadlines designed to streamline a case for early determination. Frontloading of civil cases is now a regular feature of litigation, due to the requirement for all documentation relevant to one’s claim or defence to be placed before the court at the both the pre-litigation and early stages of litigation. This is perhaps the most significant reform introduced by the CPR and is designed to ensure the early ventilation of substantive issues and increase the chances of out an of court settlement as mentioned previously.
The Case Management Conference or CMC, a hearing of the matter which takes places after all pleadings have been filed and exchanged, has also become a critical aspect of the CPR, as the judicial officer conducting the CMC, either a Master or Judge of the High Court, has extensive powers to control and manage the pace and shape of the litigation as it moves forward to trial. The ultimate direction of litigious proceedings is now often determined at the CMC as, even at this early stage, the merits of the case (to the extent revealed by the pleadings and documents therein disclosed) are scrutinised by the judicial officer who may either encourage parties to settle or instead provide extensive directions to ready the parties for trial.
If parties are minded to consider an early settlement, they may request a judicial settlement conference with another judicial officer other than the one who will eventually hear the trial of the matter, or opt to be referred to mediation by a commercial mediator.
If no form of alternative dispute resolution can justly resolve the case or the parties opt not to pursue this avenue, the case is then readied for trial. Directions will be given at the CMC for the discovery and inspection of documents, the agreeing of documents, issues and facts by the parties, the filing and exchange of witness statements (which are designed to take the place of evidence-in-chief), evidential objections to witness statements and the filing of propositions of law. After this exercise is completed, a pre-trial review hearing is fixed to deal with interim issues before trial. After these issues are dealt with, the case is then fit to proceed to trial, which in this jurisdiction is heard by a Judge without a jury.
It is open to parties to appeal the decisions of trial judges to the Court of Appeal and from the Court of Appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, based in London, England, the latter of which remains the final appellate court for Trinidad and Tobago.
Recovery of the legal costs of civil litigation may be sought under the CPR and are usually awarded to the successful party. Such costs may take the form of fixed, prescribed, assessed or budgeted costs depending on the nature of the claim or on how the parties have applied or agreed to have the costs determined but may often not equal the costs actually expended to litigate the matter.
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