Another country

Much has happened in the last few weeks: a new government, a new Prime Minister. A break with the last 14 years. Of course, all politicial careers end in failure, and in a few years, or a decade an exhausted Labour party will be voted out of office, to be replaced by the freshly scrubbed glowing faces of their replacements. But by then, things may be very different. For the moment, it is enough to enjoy the summer of 2024.

One of the skills that any advocate who undertakes credit hire work must master, is that of trial preparation, and by that I mean preparing for the hearing which may be a small claims hearing, a fast track or intermediate trial, or a hearing that graces the upper echelons of allocation, on the multi-track. Of course, as credit hire claims with claims in the region of 50k, continue to be allocated to the Small Claims track, allocation in credit hire cases, takes on a decidedly flexible nature.

In the end it does not matter where the case is allocated, and heard, as the approach to preparing a trial, any trial, is going to be broadly the same. In essence, one takes trial preparation in bitesize chunks, one bite at a time. In bigger cases, or more complex cases, there are simply more chunks to swallow. But the method that I outline below, will work in virtually all cases. So let us begin.

The first step is to organise one’s papers, which these days means PDF files. There will usually be a hearing bundle, but there will be additional files not within the hearing bundle. These will include part 36 offers, correspondence, costs schedules, and other material.

In addition, one will have a number of authorities, which one will wish to have readily to hand for closing submissions, even if they are in fact not used. All of these documents must be clearly labelled, and if not possessed with clear labels, relabelled by you.

All of them should then be organised within a folder, and as necessary subfolders. I keep my folders on a remote file sharing platform, which enables me to download/upload anything I want onto my desktop, laptop, and Ipad as the case may be.

Once the PDFs have been organised, the work can begin. You will have chosen a PDF reader, which must have as a minimum, the facility to add bookmarks, to highlight, to have OCR applied to the pages and which you can navigate with ease.

I like Liquid Text best, and with the case file on my platform can work on the papers on any of machines, save them and then work on them on another machine: thus I tend to prepare cases on my desktop, but take the results to court on a laptop and Ipad, as I find two screens very useful.

Now having prepped the PDFs, fired up the computer and got everything into Liquid Text, the hard work can start. The first thing to do is to read everything: usually without marking it, making mental notes, just to get a flavour of the case, to understand the instructions, to see what the constituent parts of the evidence are. To identify in very broad terms the issues in the case and to draw some initial conclusions.

Then the second read through begins, this time marking the papers, highlighting, and throwing the key parts of the evidence into the Workspace on LiquidText. Formulating the theory of the case, and thinking what does a judge have to find in their judgment, for the client to win?

And for a judge to make those findings, what must the evidence show, or be argued to show, what points of law are engaged, and why should the judge find on the facts and the law for the client?

Then each chunk of the preparation of the case can take place. The starting point is always to formulate in outline, or bullet points, the closing submissions, the arguments that will be deployed in closing to persuade the judge to grant a favourable decision. Then preparation of any cross examination. Then preparation of any examination in chief, though that is a great rarity in civil trials these days.

Then a skeleton argument with any accompanying documents which should sensibly be created, such as a chronology and a PDF bundle of authorities. Having been through all these steps, the case should be firmly lodged in your mind, so that you know what key points to make in the final chunk of preparation, an opening address: if you are permitted to make one! 

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