The CAT’s fast-track: a marathon and not a sprint?
Overview of the fast-track
The fast-track procedure was introduced in 2015 to make it easier for claimants – particularly individuals, micro-businesses and SMEs – to obtain damages and/or injunctive relief in the CAT. Whilst any party may apply to the CAT for a claim to be designated to the fast-track, the CAT may also make an order on its own initiative.
Unlike an application for expedition, the fast-track promises further benefits such as the ability to cost-cap and a direction for limited disclosure – obvious advantages to any claimant. Whilst there are various factors which the CAT will take into account when deciding whether or not to designate a claim to the fast-track – such as the complexity of the issues and the status of the parties – it should not be disregarded as a viable avenue to pursue a claim, despite its somewhat limited use to date.
The Prinknash filing
A recent competition claim seeking designation to the fast-track was filed last month. The claimant in that case is the owner of ‘The Prinknash Bird and Deer Park’ – a family-owned wildlife park business in Gloucester – and the defendant, Prinknash Abbey Trustees, owns the estate. The dispute centres around whether the terms of a settlement agreement restrict the claimant’s ability to trade food and drink, as well as to hold events at the park.
Just over a month after filing at the CAT, the first CMC took place just last week which laid down most directions to trial. The CAT ordered a split trial between liability and quantum, with the trial on liability designated to the fast-track. As well as making room in the timetable for the CAT’s panel to visit the site in Gloucester, the CAT has ordered that the liability trial will be heard for no more than four days in July 2019: an impressive five months after filing (notably, the CAT rules require that, on the fast-track, a trial must commence within six months of its designation).
Indeed, this is not the first time that the CAT has ordered a split trial in fast-track proceedings – the same was ordered in the Socrates fast-track claim against The Law Society – the first and only fast-track case to go to trial so far. That case also ordered that the experts give evidence via a ‘hot-tub’: not only does this save time in the trial timetable, but this also saves costs and focuses the economic experts on limited issues. This may become common-theme in fast-tracked cases and it remains to be seen whether the same will be ordered in the Prinknash claim.
To adapt the common adage “life is a marathon, not a sprint”: whilst encouraging use of the fast-track procedure may likened to a marathon, the procedure itself is most certainly more akin to a sprint. This recent CAT filing serves as a helpful reminder as to the existence of the fast-track procedure. Despite the obvious advantages, however, only three claims have been designated to the fast-track to date; two of which settled before trial. Perhaps the reason for the overall slow uptake is due to infancy of the procedure and the limited precedents that have been set by the CAT – although this may be somewhat of a chicken and egg problem. Indeed, should the Prinknash claim go to trial, then it is hoped that any precedent would be favourable to claimants in order to encourage use of the procedure, in particular, by individuals and small businesses.