How we can help you unlock the legal system, by Mike Smyth
Justice should be for all. But we all know that it doesn’t work that way sometimes. You may have a strong case in theory – but unless you have the means and the confidence to risk everything in a costly court case, you may well be prevented from getting what is rightfully yours.
Yet rather than simply give up, there are some recent developments that offer hope to those taking or defending legal action ‘against the odds’.
One measure which can be used to good effect in the construction arena is known as ‘preliminary issue determination’ or ‘PID’. The idea behind PID is that many legal disputes ultimately hinge on a particular issue at the heart of the case. This one issue can act as a major block, preventing the parties from seeking a sensible compromise. As a result, people become entrenched and progress proves impossible.
So, the theory goes, if it is possible to isolate and deal with that prickly issue on its own, then that may unblock the whole process. This means less time spent in court – and a lot less cost for those seeking justice.
Though still under-utilised in my view, the concept of PID has featured in the Birmingham Technology and Construction Court, presided over by Judge (HHJ) Sarah Watson. Here, the parties to some particularly complex and technical disputes are encouraged to settle the ‘core’ issue by way of a preliminary issue trial. If that matter can be successfully isolated and resolved – either way – then it is far more likely that all remaining arguments can be resolved through mediation.
I recently acted for a Staffordshire couple in a rather complicated dispute over some property that was being converted for a mix of residential and holiday use. There were several legal issues at stake but the key stumbling block was identified and will be resolved, by the court under PID. Once that matter is settled, it should effectively ‘unblock’ the situation and paved the way to resolve the case without a very costly fully-contested trial.
The Birmingham court is certainly not unique and I, for one, would like to see it become more commonplace. Because if it prevents the need for a full-blown trial then this not only saves time and money for the litigants in that particular case but effectively opens the door to justice for many other deserving cases.